Fall Prevention: A Matter of Balance

Author: Meaghan Carroll, MSN, RN, Trauma Program Manager

Ramón A. Partida, MDAn 83-year old man who had to give up skiing because he was afraid he couldn’t get back up again if he fell.

A woman, uprooted from the Midwest to live with her daughter, whose class participation gained her not only valuable information but some new friends.

A couple who took the class together so as to help and motivate each other.

An 80-plus woman so enthusiastic with what she learned she decided to go on as a volunteer coach to others.

These are just a few of hundreds of Marin County seniors, ranging in age from 65 to 90, even 100, who have taken positive action toward improving their health and quality of life as they age by participating in an award winning falls prevention class called A Matter of Balance, available at multiple locations around Marin County.

Falls affect more than one out of four older adults in the U.S. every year and sends three million of them to the ER for treatment. In addition to broken bones and other injuries, falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries and hip fractures among this population.

At Marin General Hospital, injuries from falls are the number one reason people come to the ER. An injury from a fall, even if not as major as a brain injury or hip fracture, can make it hard for an older adult to resume everyday activities. Many never return to their own homes again, but go to assisted living communities or nursing homes.

Falls can happen to anyone. Hazards exist in our homes and in our environment. Many falls happen during routine activities. Aging may bring challenges such as diminished vision and decreased strength in legs and arms. Some medications can cause dizziness or affect balance.

Even taking into consideration these multiple risk factors, all which can increase one’s chance of falling, one of the most significant is in our heads — the fear of falling, especially if one has fallen before. Recent studies show that up to half of older adults living in the community have a fear of falling and respond by curtailing their activities.

This then becomes the fear of falling cycle. The more we fear that we will fall, the less active we become, leading to a loss of muscle strength and balance, two of the main reasons we fall in the first place. A life limited by fear of falling decreases our confidence in our ability to prevent falls in the first place.

Our community now has a great resource through which older adults can get help managing their risk of falling. Sponsored by Marin General Hospital and funded by a grant from Marin County’s Adult and Aging Services, A Matter of Balance is available year round, at no charge.

During the eight two-hour sessions participants are encouraged to talk about their concerns about falling and learn coping strategies to reduce them. They also set goals for increasing their activities while staying as safe as possible, do problem solving about what changes to make at home to reduce fall risk and learn simple strength and balance exercises to practice with the group. One practical takeaway from the class, enthusiastically mentioned by many participants, is being shown how to land more safely should a fall happen and how to get up from a fall, or even just the floor.

Data from the classes so far shows 60% of participants showing improved balance, 66% improved strength (sit to stand test), 29% increasing their walking and exercise and 39% saying they no longer have the same concerns about falling. Many attendees report feeling less alone in their fears and encouraged and motivated by the group. Many say their world has gotten wider because they can now feel safer outside their homes; a typical goal among many is to resume activities they love such as walking outdoors and hiking.

If you are interested in finding out more about Marin General Hospital’s

A Matter of Balance classes, call Beverly Winsor, Master Trainer, 1-415-993-2557 or email injuryprevention@maringeneral.org. Beverly can tell you about classes in your area or how to become trained as A Matter of Balance coach.