Donna Wynn has not had a serious fall, and she wants to do everything she can to keep it that way.
On Tuesday, she and more than a dozen other senior citizens gathered at New Vine Baptist Church outside of Lynchburg to take part in a class designed to help them from falling or to be better prepared for what to do if they do lose their footing. In the fifth session of the eight-week program, the group spent the first part of the two-hour class going through a series of exercises mean to improve their strength and balance.
“I’m not to the point where I do a lot of falling, but it’s good preventive help, and it tells me what to do so I won’t get to that point,” Wynn, 69, said during a class break. “I don’t live by myself — I have my husband with me — but we have stairs, and sometimes I do like to go up into the attic by myself.”
The class, called “A Matter of Balance,” is a nationally recognized program developed by the Boston Roybal Center for Active Lifestyle Interventions, is meant to help older Americans reduce their fear of falling and be more active so they are more physically prepared for a possible fall.
Offered free of charge, the course now is being offered in the Lynchburg area with the help of a grant from the U.S. Administration for Community Living to the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, which then was distributed to 10 different area agencies on aging around the commonwealth.
In Central Virginia, the course is being put on by the nonprofit Central Virginia Alliance for Community Living, which supports individuals older than 60 and adults with disabilities with a variety of services so they can live at home instead of moving to a full-time care facility. According to CVACL’s Director of Community Impact Betty Brickhouse, both the federal and state governments want to improve access to this course to prevent seniors from having serious falls that could cause a sharp drop in their health and mobility.
“Often a fall is kind of the beginning of a decline; if they break a hip or they do something like that, they end up less mobile and not able to do the things they want to do,” Brickhouse said. “One of the objectives of the agency is to support them in staying independent and alone and being able to live at home, and a big part of that is giving them the support and skills to do that and not end up falling and end up going into a facility or that sort of thing.”
According to Brickhouse, another round of the course will be offered at the Templeton Senior Center on Wiggington Road in Lynchburg in June.
Throughout the class’ eight sessions, the 10 to 14 participants discuss their concerns about falling, learn effective ways to exercise in order to prepare for falls and how to change risk-taking behaviors that would make them more likely to fall through the step by step curriculum. Activities such as role-playing help the class learn how to improve their confidence about leaving the house instead of being concerned about falling or motivate others to do the same.
“A lot of it is confidence,” Brickhouse said. “Some people, when they lose their confidence and they’re afraid they’re going to fall, they end up isolating themselves, and they end up staying home and not doing the things that they want to do. If they know and they can take that head on and get the confidence that they can do this and make a plan about what’s worrying them so they can get out [of the house].”
The three-year grant from ACL brought $554,525 to Virginia, which will be distributed to area agencies on aging in Big Stone Gap, Marion, Roanoke, Waynesboro, Prince William, Martinsville, Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News in addition to CVACL. Brickhouse said CVACL will be reimbursed depending on how many participants complete attend five out of eight sessions of the class every year. For 2018, if they have 24 participants complete the course, they will be reimbursed the maximum amount of $6,300 for the year. In both 2019 and 2020, the goal will be to have 48 people finish the class from CVACL.
Another part of the grant was to train three staff members from CVACL to become “Master Trainers,” who then will be able to train more community leaders so the class can grow in Lynchburg.
“What we’d like to do is train people in churches so they can bring it to the people in their communities,” Brickhouse said. “We’d love to have tons of leaders out there so they can take the program into their churches or associations; in addition to having classes ourselves, we want to train people so it can multiply.”
This move to increase access to fall prevention training from DARS and the federal government is targeted toward “underserved populations and regions of Virginia” with a goal of serving 2,000 older adults in three years. According to a news release from DARS when Virginia was awarded the grant, falls lead to more than 2.8 million injuries among older adults treated in emergency rooms, with 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jean Johnson, 81, had a serious fall in 1992, and she has been more cautious about her movements ever since. She signed up for the “A Matter of Balance” course in order to prevent falling again, and she said it has been an enjoyable way to be stay active and prevent another incident.
“I have fallen so I find that this class has been very rewarding and eye-opening for me,” Johnson said. “I find a lot of the things we are doing I am doing already, but it’s still a very good class, and I look forward to it each week.”