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Balancing act

One-level living at Seabrook prevents falls in more ways than one

Created date

April 19th, 2018
Fitness specialist Lauren Welch acts as spotter for balance class participant Marlene Seybold as she steps on and off the foam pad.

Fitness specialist Lauren Welch acts as spotter for balance class participant Marlene Seybold as she steps on and off the foam pad.

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 Seabrook, the Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J.

At Seabrook, 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.

Fitness specialists Lauren Welch and Courtney Carroll teach two ten-week balance courses a year to help community members maintain or improve their leg, upper body, and core strength, and to learn safe ways to maneuver in daily situations to avoid falls.

“We offer a lot of different options for residents to help with fall prevention and fitness in general,” Welch says, mentioning the fitness center, group fitness classes, personal training, and the indoor aquatics center. “In the balance class, we work specifically in small groups to educate and build balance.”

The course, taught in the Town Square activities room for an hour twice a week, paid off in droves for Bill Rubin, who lives with Parkinson’s, a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects 1 in 100 people over age 60.

“The class exceeded my expectations,” Bill says. “My initial impression of going was, What can they do for me? But now, if they were giving another class, I would go back because it was so enjoyable and I learned so much. If I knew someone who had Parkinson’s hadn’t taken the class, I would strongly suggest that they do it.”

The class improved his awareness, strength, and muscle memory of actions like changing direction, picking an object up off the floor, and reaching for an object. “For most people, these things come naturally; but for someone who has Parkinson’s, these are maneuvers I wouldn’t even consider until after I took the class,” Bill says. Now, it’s second nature.

“With Parkinson’s, there are some things a person is prone to, like rolling the shoulders forward and poor posture. For Bill, he didn’t think he was going to be able to fix that, and we were able to,” Welch says.

What’s more, says his wife Marcia, “They made it fun. They set up obstacle courses; we used balls, cones, bands, balloons, and free weights. We thought the class was terrific. And the more you practiced, the more maneuvers became automatic so now we do them without even thinking.”

Though Marcia doesn’t suffer from Parkinson’s, she, too, benefited greatly from the class. “It taught you ways to walk, ways to reach for things in your cabinets, ways to pick up something off the floor to keep you safe. It felt like we had a personal trainer because the class is kept small, and it’s a lot of one-on-one attention,” she says.

Bill and Marcia are perfect examples of how the balance class can help anyone stay safe and avoid falls. “Improvement varies by individual, but there’s always improvement. The biggest thing I like to see is confidence,” says Welch. “A lot of residents feel more comfortable walking in crowds and long distances after completing the course.”

After the course ends, Welch and Carroll encourage participants to continue their training in the fitness center. “It’s so convenient to have a state-of-the-art fitness center, aquatics center, personal training, and group fitness room just steps from their front doors. The residents we see in balance class end up choosing to use one or all of those options.”