Grand Forks program teaches senior citizens balance, fall prevention

Having once beena physical fitness and dance instructor at UND, Marly Peterson says she has always been in good shape. But now, at almost 80, she realizes she doesn't have the balance or muscle strength she took for granted in her younger years. ...

 Having once beena physical fitness and dance instructor at UND, Marly Peterson says she has always been in good shape. But now, at almost 80, she realizes she doesn’t have the balance or muscle strength she took for granted in her younger years. 

 For area seniors citizens like Peterson, Altru Health System and the NDSU Extension Service offer Stepping On, a program to prevent falls that can be devastating, both physically and mentally.

   “We’ve done some research on falls in older adults and what we’ve found is it can cause serious injuries, even death,” says Bill Vasicek, community safety coordinator for Altru, adding that a fall can decrease confidence and instill a fear of falling again.

   Falls that cause injury can also prompt the loss of independence, and the goal of this program is keep elderly citizens healthy and living at home.

   “What they learn will hopefully increase their self confidence,” Vasicek says.


   Research has shown that the course reduced falls in participants by 31 percent and increased confidence by 95 percent.

  The course

   About 20 health and safety professionals from across North Dakota came together in 2012 to learn about the Stepping On program and how to disseminate the information in their communities, says Vasicek, who teaches the course with the help of Donna Bernhardt, NDSU Extension agent.

   The course includes seven weekly, two-hour sessions and an optional home visit, as well as a reunion three months after the final session. Participants are also sent home with ankle weights and a manual with exercises designed to improve strength and balance. The sessions incorporate specialists from the community, including police officers, optometrists, physical therapists and others.

   The course teaches about falling risks that can include dizziness from taking multiple medications, diminished eye sight, insufficient lighting, improper footwear and many others. Police officers talk to participants about how to get around safely in the community. part is keeping up with the exercises after the course is over, but she hasa new awareness of hazards in her home and around the community.

   “I appreciated the lectures,” she says. “I thought they were really helpful. It’s a good class andI enjoyed it.”

   Besides physical benefits, camaraderie, support and storytelling also are major components of the course, Bernhardt says. Participants learn from each other and form friendships, she adds.

   Bernhardt says she took an interest in teaching the class because she is abeliever in preventative care. “They’re given a lot of information,” Vasicek says. “I see them coming away witha lot of ideas on how to prevent falls,” Bernhardt says. “My experience is it is very positive.”


   Peterson agrees and says she installed grab bars in her shower and better lighting for the stairway that leads down to her basement.

   “You become very aware of things in your home,” Peterson says.


   Vasicek says he would like to see the program offered in more communities in North Dakota, and wants to hold classes more frequently in Grand Forks.

   “My goal is to offer it at least twice a year,” he says.

   The classes are held at Hope Evangelical Church at 1001 17th Ave. S. in Grand Forks and the next round of sessions begins Feb. 26. To register, contact NDSU Extension at 701-780-8229. The fee is $25 to cover the cost of the weights and exercise manual.

   “A lot of people look at this as just another exercise class. But it’s more than that,” Vasicek says.

   “I think of my own mother. She had fallen and broke her hip. She was 80 at that time and was adamant about getting back to good health. But I could see where, for some, a fall could be devastating.”


   Peterson says: “It’s very inexpensive and you get more back than what you put into it.”

   She adds that the class initially seems time consuming, but it’s worth it, and necessary for senior citizens, as strength and balance diminishes.

   “You realize, ‘Hey, I can’t stand on one foot like I used to be able to do,’” she says. “You kind of neglect the muscles you took for granted and could count on.”

   Peterson also learned how to properly adjust the mirrors of her car, reducing blind spots and catering to her own visual capacity.

   “You think you can’t adjust to the changes, but you see the benefits.”

   Peterson says the hardest

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