Helping Seniors Avoid Falls That Cause Serious Injury
Nearly 130,000 older adults in Upstate New York reported falling during a three month period. That's according to a report by Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield. Those falls can result in serious injury, but a program for seniors helps them avoid falling.
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Betty Perkins-Carpenter, founder and president of Senior Fitness in Penfield, designed Six Steps to Better Balance. It's a fall prevention program to help seniors regain their balance.
However, the former Olympic diving coach says balance is something we never lose.
"It's all stored in your motor muscle memory from when you were a kid,” she said. “Because it's all stored there it's a matter of bringing it back out and it happens with practice."
The Excellus report found falls occur in one out of three older adults over the age of 65. Many of them result in a trip to the hospital and some can lead to death.
"Age increases risk. We know that a previous fall intuitively increases risk. But it's really about mobility and balance so any orthopedic or neurologic conditions that impact balance can increase the likelihood of falls,” said Dr. Jamie Kerr, Excellus Chief Medical Officer.
Bill Bell of Henrietta was diagnosed with PSP, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. It affects his balance. He ended up in the emergency room after falling down his basement stairs. But after just two sessions with Perkins-Carpenter, Bill says he's already noticing a difference.
"Last week I picked up counting steps, so I count steps, 12 steps down to the basement and 12 steps up. This week, I can't tell you what I picked up. I picked up a whole bunch with the balls and all of the balance things.”
Betty's devised a technique for seniors to practice at home that will help them prevent injuries from falls. She calls it the ten martini slump.
It's an exercise that's taught later in the course. Betty's daughter and partner, Cheryl Orefice, says the key to the martini slump is relaxing muscles.
"We start by hanging loose and we walk up to our favorite chair, and we make sure our legs are up against the chair, we hang loose again and then we just slump down into the chair,” said Orefice.
The exercise can also be performed using a sofa or bed. Stretching is another important aspect of the Six Steps to Better Balance.
Perkins-Carpenter, who has a Ph.D. in health administration, recommends seniors stretch in bed before getting up in the morning.
"When you reach up, the shoulders come off the bed, the muscles are pulling the spine and when muscle pulls on bone it strengthens bone. So everything we're doing in these six steps is heavily science based and evidence based."
Six Steps to Better Balance is a six week course, one hour per week. This current session is being held at the Jewish Community Center.