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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

More instructors needed to teach seniors in balance classes to prevent injuries from falls

As icy conditions linger in Spokane, more people get injured with slips or falls. But those types of accidents can be a year-round hazard – or fear – for adults past age 60.

It doesn’t have to be that way, said Phil Helean, who is a coach for a free fall prevention class called A Matter of Balance, offered through Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington.

More in-person classes are rolling out regionally at senior centers, churches and fire departments, but there’s one hitch: There’s a huge need for more volunteer instructors to run sessions across Spokane, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Stevens and Whitman counties

“The whole premise of the class is that falls are not a normal part of aging, and falls are preventable,” said Helean, who also talks in class about icy conditions. “The class reduces your fear of falling, and it increases your activity level. This gives people tools they need to reduce the risks of falling.

“We have a lot of people requesting these classes right now, and we just need to make sure we have the volunteers so we can set those classes set up – whether those are at community centers, churches, retirement homes, or wherever they can be.”

To recruit more coaches, the agency has scheduled a 2-3 p.m. Feb. 22 information session at 1222 N. Post St., to cover that volunteer role. ALTCEW also plans to hold training for new coaches, set for 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Feb. 27 and March 1. Volunteer coaches should be strong communicators who enjoy teaching and love working with older adults, the agency request said.

Typically taught to groups of eight to 12 people, the fall prevention class is targeted to residents ages 60 and older who have a higher risk of broken bones or fatal trauma, especially if they have fragile bones or weakened muscles.

ALTCEW has about 10 class coaches, but with demand, it would help to nearly double that amount, Helean said.

“Honestly, if we got eight new coaches, that would go a long way,” Helean said.

The demand is for more in-person sessions versus virtual ones. Any organization, nonprofit or community center can host a class. In them, participants learn tips to avoid accidental falls and do balance and strength exercises.

Upcoming sessions include one scheduled at the Spokane Valley Fire Department and one for Cheney Parks & Recreation, Helean said. He also started a class this week at Rockwood Retirement on the South Hill.

Spokane has the highest rate of falls in the state for older adults, based on the Spokane Regional Health District data, he said. During 2009-2010, 1 in 6 seniors in Spokane County reported falling in a prior three-month period.

Nationwide, about 1 million injuries a year and 17,000 deaths are caused by slipping and falling on ice or snow, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A high percentage of phone calls that the fire department goes on are fall-related, and out of those among older adults who fall, 1 in 3 of them ends up with an injury,” Helean added. “Quite honestly, a lot of times it can be fatal if they break a hip or hit their head.”

The coaches work to help participants become more confident about managing falls, increasing strength, finding ways to reduce falls, and protecting themselves if they do fall. Participants also report that they have increased the amount they exercise on a regular basis.

Each class is done in eight two-hour sessions and uses group discussion, problem–solving strategies, videos and gentle physical exercise. Older adults learn positive coping methods to reduce fear of falling and remain active and independent.

To learn more about the class or other falls prevention programs at Aging & Long Term Care, visit Registration is required to attend a class. For questions, contact Helean at (509) 777-1571, or email