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Balance, mobility take center stage

Tue., Sept. 18, 2012

National Fall Prevention Awareness Week arrives Monday

John Freirich broke a number of bones when he played football, but at 79, he’s not eager to repeat the experience.

“I realized I wasn’t as comfortable with a lot of physical activity as I used to be,” he said. “I wasn’t as stable.”

So last year he took a FallProof balance and mobility class at Touchmark on South Hill. Freirich chuckled. “My wife, who does my thinking for me, thought it would be a good idea.”

Freirich said she was right. “I learned how to avoid falls and how to recover and catch myself if I start to fall.”

Sept. 24-28 is National Fall Prevention Awareness Week and Touchmark is hosting a health fair that week, offering free fitness testing for seniors.

FallProof instructor Lori McCormick said “Seniors over age 65 have a high risk of falling and a high risk of serious injury from falling.” Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm this. A recent report states 1 in every 3 adults age 65 and older falls each year. Falls can cause moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head traumas, and can increase the risk of early death.

McCormick said several factors contribute to the risk of falling. “Age-related things like poor vision, slow reaction and decreased balance create a cascade of symptoms that increase fall risk. As we age, we start doing less – our bodies weaken and we get afraid of falling, so we do even less. It becomes a vicious cycle.”

The good news, according to the CDC, is falls are a public health problem that’s largely preventable.

The FallProof class addresses the three sensory systems that help maintain balance. McCormick, a physical therapist, is the director of Touchmark’s Health and Fitness Center and the only Certified FallProof Balance and Mobility Specialist offering the class in the state.

“We work with the somatosensory system which is your body sense – your sense of position that we get through our feet. We also work with vision and the vestibular system which involves your inner ear and balance. The program challenges those three systems with different activities and exercises,” she said.

Some of those exercises sound an awful lot like play. For instance, she’ll have participants stand in a circle and pass a soccer ball to each other. “They’re focused on kicking the ball, not necessarily balance,” explained McCormick. “We’re trying to make balance reactions more automatic.”

She said participants enjoy activities like balloon volleyball. “We make it safe for them to get going and moving again.”

A balance test is administered before the start of the eight-week class and then again at the conclusion of the course.

Ginny Larson, 87, said she saw definite improvement after taking the class. She laughed. “Walking and talking – boy was I good at that!”

She’s had hip replacement surgery and said, “I had some problems with walking and just wasn’t back to where I’d been before the surgery. After the class I had a greater awareness of what I can and cannot do.”

That increased body awareness is an important component of the program. Freirich, who recently returned from playing a week’s worth of golf in Canada, said, “I now undertake things I kind of avoided doing. I’m more confident.”

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