Here are some of the questions I was asked.
1. Why are seniors at a higher risk of falls than other segments of the population?
As we age, the synapses (space between two nerve cells) in our brains become further apart thus slowing our recognition and reaction time as a result. Neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine, norepinephrine and dopamine are responsible for carrying those signals that tell our legs, feet and body to correct itself before we reach a point of “no return” and fall, across these synapses. This is the same thing that happens when playing golf, tennis or pickle ball and the wind is really blowing and whipping around. The game just became that much harder. But there is HOPE! With consistent practice in proprioceptively enriched environments, your balance can improve significantly. There are factors that can impact the rate and overall capacity of improvement such as neurological disorders, neuropathy and macular degeneration to name a few.
2. Are there any common myths associated with senior falls that you think should be addressed?
One issue that bothers me is the cloud of embarrassment the seniors tend to feel when they fall. This becomes a problem when seniors choose not to tell anyone that they have fallen. I see this a lot with those that live at home, either alone or with a spouse. The typical concern is that a family member or members will “gang’ up on them and try to convince or force them to move into a place they do not want to be. Also, the potential move would take a spouse, who has become a caregiver, away from and leading to the separation of the couple. In most cases, the most frustrating component of this issue is the fact that they can so something to improve their balance, but when nothing is said, no answers are sought which leads us further down the road in the wrong direction.
3. In what ways are assisted living communities making accommodations to reduce the risk of falls that you’ve seen or know about?
I know that many, if not all at this point, assisted living communities offer balance classes to their residents. Also, I have seen quite a few, newly built facilities with fitness centers that are staffed by certified personal trainers. This is great to see! Strength training and group fitness classes are a great way to improve balance, flexibility, improve osteoporosis and positively impact the cardiovascular system.
4. How does your program work and what are the benefits of your program for the assisted living communities that use it? How does your program help these communities reduce the risk of falls?
Balance University includes the four pillars that are necessary to address when it comes to improving one’s balance. Leg and core strength, postural exercises, improving flexibility and balance exercises. BU has created the Position Of Confidence (POC) which creates a safe and stable foundation in a proprioceptively enriched environment. This just means that an individual is in a position where they are stable but just slightly unstable. This is done in order to improve neuromuscular efficiency, another key to improving one’s balance. As you can see, improving balance is a multi-faceted issue that Balance University has recognized and guides students in a step by step manual. Assisted living facilities can utilize the program in a few different ways. They can offer classes on a weekly basis that follows the exercises in the guide/book throughout the 10-week program. Residents can purchase the program and follow the 10-week program in the comfort of their own home.
5. As families and seniors tour assisted living communities, what things should they look out for that may indicate the community is proactive when it comes to reducing the risk of a fall?
If I were looking for a facility for a family member, there are a few things I would look for that would indicate that this particular facility was being proactive in their approach to fall prevention.
1. Is there a fitness facility available? And if so, is there a staff of certified personal trainer(s) or physical therapists to ensure the safety and proper use of equipment.
2. Does this facility offer balance classes? If so, what are the credentials of the instructor? What specific program are we following to ensure improvement?
3. Does the facility offer lectures/classes to educate residents on how to prevent falls throughout the year?
4. Are there grab bars and other fall preventive steps taken in the bathrooms of each residence? 70% of all falls occur in the bathroom, so we want to make sure that steps have been taken to make the bathroom a safe place. Also, if a fall were to occur, is there a system available that would alert staff that a fall has taken place?
5. Has the staff taken any type a balance course so that they are knowledgeable about exercises to improve balance and methods to prevent falls?