March 22, 2011

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported falls are the leading cause of accidental death for people 65 and older and one in three senior citizens will fall in any given year. It’s no wonder that for many seniors, the fear of falling causes a frustrating limitation of activity.

Many University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agents are now trained to facilitate a program called “A Matter of Balance,” which equips senior citizens with strategies to reduce their fear and increase their activity level.

“The idea is to bring groups of seniors together so they can confront their concerns about falling and then counteract them with things to improve balance,” said Diana Doggett, UK family and consumer sciences extension agent for Fayette County. “Studies indicate that more than half of seniors (in assisted living facilities) experience a fear of falling and respond to that by curtailing their activities. It compromises their social interactions and actually increases their risk of falling. Inactivity results in a loss of muscle mass, strength and ultimately a loss of balance.”

Nearly 40 seniors at Wilmore’s Wesley Village are taking part in the program to help them manage their concerns about falls. Extension agents from Jessamine, Fayette and Anderson counties are facilitating the eight-week program.

“This facility was so willing to do this program,” Doggett said. “Halfway through the eight weeks, I’ve noticed an increase in their willingness to share their fears. People are becoming more willing to share experiences and ideas. I think thus far, the group has become more of a unit, and they are beginning to buy into the fact that there is something they can do to increase their mobility.”

Each Thursday, agents Doggett, Marisa FitzGerald Aull of Jessamine County and Sara Talbot of Anderson County  work with Karen Kakar from the Jessamine County Health Department to teach Wesley Village residents to set realistic goals for activity, change their environments to reduce fall risk factors and demonstrate exercises that will increase strength and balance.

“The first two weeks were just knowledge building,” Kakar said. “I’ve noticed such a difference from week to week; it’s just amazing. It’s very easy to get the tools and take the one-day training to facilitate a program like this.”

Kakar said the demand is definitely out there, and facilitators are needed to carry out programs in other facilities around the county and state.

“I’ve seen what this has brought to this population, and I’m encouraged that they’ll be able to live life to the fullest, which they need to do,” Doggett said.

The Matter of Balance program was developed by the Roybal Center at Boston University.