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Balancing act

One-level living at Cedar Crest helps adults prevent falls in more ways than one

Created date

April 17th, 2018
Residents participate in a Balance class

In the advanced balance class at Cedar Crest, (from left) Donna O’Connor, Wilma Philips, Jeanne Loomer, Richard Kiss, Barbara Marty, and Donna Murphy work on transferring their weight and turning with the ball, building core stability.

Did you know that an inactive 30-year-old can be more prone to falls than a 65-year-old who practices yoga or takes a balance class?

“Balance is age-related, but it’s also related to your activity level,” says Carrie Hughes, physical therapist and co-owner of Stay Home Safely, a company that makes homes safer for seniors through home modifications.

Hughes says that as we get older, our perception and vision decrease, making stairs and other daily obstacles dangerous.

“Stairs are difficult because as people age, as their perception and vision decrease, their righting reflexes—or ability to self-correct—decrease. They are not always sure of where that next step is or where to place the foot,” Hughes says. “Additionally, strength decreases. So when your legs are tired, especially at the end of the day, stairs become more cumbersome.”

Skip the modifications

While some people choose to make home modifications—which can potentially decrease the home’s value—others choose one-level living in an active community setting such as Cedar Crest, the Erickson Living community in Pequannock Township, N.J.

At Cedar Crest, community members no longer have to lug laundry up and down stairs or climb into an attic to access storage. What’s more, they have opportunities to train their righting reflexes, build core strength, and maintain or improve balance to decrease their risk of falls and injury.

Colleen Fox and Ray Lopez design and teach three weekly balance classes at Cedar Crest. They say the classes, both beginner and advanced, not only help to either maintain or improve balance but also are a great source of encouragement and confidence for participants.

The popular, ongoing advanced class has a steady group of about ten, many of whom have been attending for the past four years. “For them it’s preventive because, as you get older, your muscles get weaker. This group is trying to stay ahead of that. They’re working hard to maintain their balance,” Lopez says.

He and Fox set up obstacle courses in the Woodland Commons Conference Center with activities such as weaving in and out of cones, kicking a balloon, and a whole host of lower body exercises.

“We are at a real advantage because here at Cedar Crest, we have the room to design obstacle courses, accomplish more, challenge the participants, and keep them moving and engaged,” Lopez says.

The beginner group is more hands-on and designed for those who have possibly recently recovered from a fall and been referred by Cedar Crest’s on-site outpatient and rehabilitation center.

“We work hand in hand with the physical and occupational therapists at Cedar Crest’s rehab. We communicate with them one-on-one to get background information on a resident. It’s a safer way of going about our class because we have history on a participant and can offer modifications or alternatives,” Lopez says.

Within a safe environment, he and Fox work with participants on activities such as reaching out to a cone, passing a ball around their backs, squatting down, and pivoting, which is where a lot of accidents happen in daily living.

Participants in the ten-week beginner class receive a pre- and post-assessment. “The assessments allow them to see the improvements they have made and helps to improve their confidence,” Fox says.

Never too early or too late

Fox says anyone can start exercising at any time in their life, and balance is a great place to start.

“I moved to Cedar Crest when I was in my mid-sixties, and you would expect that I would have good balance. But I had spent much of the ten years prior sitting at a computer desk and generally not very active,” says Kathy Moffitt, who enrolled in the balance class after falling several times while walking her 90-lb Labrador-border collie mix, Abby.

“I haven’t fallen at all in the last year, and it’s all due to the balance class,” Kathy says. “Now I’m very confident walking all over Cedar Crest.”

Hidden benefit

Aside from improved balance and core strength, several participants have discovered a hidden benefit of attending balance classes at Cedar Crest: friendship.

“We give each other a lot of support. The class is very valuable for us; we’ve made nice friends; and it’s a very positive, uplifting class,” says Donna O’Connor, who moved to Cedar Crest nearly four years ago and started the advanced balance class shortly after.

She and about five other women in the class have become close friends. After class, they head upstairs in Woodland Commons Clubhouse to the café and have lunch together.

“People build relationships here,” Lopez says.

And that, he adds, is the beauty of living at Cedar Crest.

“The encouragement other residents give each other, both in class and outside within the community, is a beautiful thing,” Lopez says. “It’s what makes Cedar Crest special.”