Debbie Georgiou moved from New Jersey almost a year ago to be closer to her daughter and son-in-law. She found a good home at Oakbrook senior living and began to explore all that Colorado had to offer.
Living alone, she discovered, also meant she had to do things herself, such as hanging pictures and hauling laundry down the hallway. The potential of a fall — hurting herself like she’d done before — worried her.
That was, until recently.
Prevention through Stepping On class
Georgiou just finished a seven-week “Stepping On” fall prevention class with UCHealth Community Health Improvement. She learned skills to stay safe and tools to continue to build strength and improve her balance.
“I’m going to be 80 soon,” Georgiou said. “I just want to have a little fun, but I want to be healthy.”
Mobility is important to Georgiou, not only because she lives by herself, but being new in the community, she wants to be able to go to the senior center, visit the Foothills Mall across from her apartment and be social.
She didn’t want to risk falling again.
Confidence through fall prevention classes
“Falls? In my 79 years — sure,” Georgiou said.
About two years ago, while working outside in an uneven garden-like area, Georgiou fell and ended up in the hospital for knee surgery.
“You feel incapacitated; I was scared,” she recalled.
More than 3 million older adults are treated in the emergency room for a fall each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And one in five falls results in serious injury, with an average hospital bill of more than $30,000.
“There are lots of different ways you can fall, lots of different causes to falls, but they are preventable,” said Alison Weston, UCHealth coordinator for fall prevention and Stepping On.
The fall prevention class
Stepping On is research-based and proven to reduce falls in older people, Weston said.
The class is tailored for those 60 and older who have had a fall in the past year or concerned about falling but still live independently. Each week the two-hour class focuses on a different topic, such as eliminating fall hazards in the home, wearing safer footwear and learning how medications contribute to balance issues.
Georgiou said she found each week’s guest speakers very helpful and worth the class time commitment.
“I wasn’t sure about the commitment, but once I saw how great they were and the info I got week to week, I began looking forward to the class,” she said. “Everyone was very professional, but also very caring.”
Fall prevention outlined
The fall prevention class starts with a timed “up-and-go” test. Each participant sits in a chair and is timed on how long it takes them to get up, walk around a cone placed several feet away and sit back down. Studies show that those who score 12 seconds or less on the test have a lower fall risk. The instructor also looks at the participant’s gait and other techniques that may put them at a greater risk of falling. Those issues are documented and then addressed through the program.
Then onto exercises, which are taught by a physical therapist in an effort to help participants strengthen their muscles and improve balance.
On the side of Georgiou’s refrigerator is a laminated sheet outlining the exercises she learned — and perfected — during class. At home, she now performs the balance exercises every day and the strength exercises three days a week. She says she rests a day between strength exercises to get the most benefit.
Bringing a heightened awareness
Class participants also learn, in the later weeks, about using assisted devices, such as canes and walkers. They discuss possible hazards in their homes, vision and medications. Guest speakers, who are experts on the topics, answer personalized questions and the group learns from others’ experiences and questions.
“They teach you how to fall and how to get up from a fall, which is a miracle,” Georgiou said, recalling again her fall, when she had to rely on a neighbor’s son to help her.
In the sixth week, class participants head outside (if the weather permits) to practice navigating curbs, stairs, sloped ramps and sidewalks.
“It’s made me more aware of my surroundings,” Georgiou said. “And I find I’m walking more by myself now.”
In the final week, the class reviews what they’ve learned and does another “up-and-go” test to measure improvements.
“The (fall prevention class) gave me confidence,” she added. “It allowed me to look forward to what’s in my future.”