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posted: 11/19/2017 7:00 AM

Class teaches Indiana senior citizens how to prevent falls

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ANDERSON, Ind. -- Kevin Stisser was a little hesitant when he found out his wife, Melva, signed him up for a fall prevention class.

Kevin and Melva Stisser had heard about the first-time class at a Triad meeting and knew it would at least be good for Kevin Stisser, who walks with a cane and has had quite a few falls.

The Stissers haven't yet finished the seven-week class, but Kevin Stisser has already noticed improvements.

"I really think that the exercises are helping," he said. "I'm getting around quite a bit at home without a cane. The discussion in the class is always good."

The group of about eight participants, give or take depending on the week, meets for about two hours each week. During that time, the group works on exercises, talks about what obstacles they have at home and possible solutions and hears from a guest speaker.

The exercises aren't necessarily aerobic or what people may generally think of as exercise.

Tandem walking is one of the most challenging for participants. Many would recognize the exercise - trying to walk a straight line - as part of a field sobriety test a police officer may require. They must walk a straight line with each foot's heel touching the other foot's toes, as if they are walking a tight rope.

While it may seem simple to some, the exercise greatly challenges balance. Multiple participants who had had falls before said the exercises have already improved their balance and confidence walking.

Each week, the participants have homework in the form of exercises and worksheets. During one class, the group talked about things they noticed in their own homes that were listed on a worksheet that could increase their fall risk.

The Stepping On program is actually a local partnership between the two Anderson hospitals. Mark Rohlfing, trauma programs manager at Commnunity Hospital Anderson, and Ashley Ebbert, emergency room nurse at St. Vincent Anderson, met while training to be instructors for the class with the State Department of Health Trauma Care department.

The two decided to teach the class together, at least until the class is big enough to split into separate groups.

"Since I work in ER, I see falls are our No. 1 thing with ages 65 and older," Ebbert said. "They are a huge part of traumas that come in."

Rohlfing said the class helps improve balance, but it also improves the amount of confidence people have in them to not fall.

"In large part, it makes them be more confident when they are out and about," he said. "Stuff we take for granted like walking up curbs or how we navigate a hill can be a little difficult (for people who have fallen)."

The instructors use a few requirements to screen potential participants to make sure the class will be safe and effective for them. The ideal candidate is someone above the age of 65 who might use a cane sometimes but doesn't depend on a cane or wheelchair for all mobility. The class is not ideal for people who have dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

The class is free to participants. Kevin Strisser said his biggest disappointment in the class is that there aren't more people involved yet. He said he was especially surprised more people weren't involved since Ebbert promoted the class at a Triad meeting.

"Maybe people thought because it was free, it doesn't mean too much," he said. "I've really enjoyed it."

Ebbert said she is hoping to see a bigger attendance for classes in the spring since the first class has been successful. She would like to see participants who haven't had falls yet as well.

"Even though you haven't had a fall, let's prevent that first one from ever even happening," she said.

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Source: The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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