Kids fall all the time, mostly without any serious consequences. After all, those little tushes are pretty well cushioned. As people age, however, a fall can become a serious medical event.
The numbers are astounding: From 2003-07 in Spokane County, there were more than 24,000 fall-related emergency room visits by people 50 and older, at a cost of more than $118 million. And the number of falls is actually increasing each year. For whatever reasons, Spokane and Eastern Washington continue to have a higher rate of fatal falls and hospitalizations than the rest of the state. What to do?
The Spokane Regional Health District recently launched an initiative to reduce falls among seniors. “The goal is to increase the number of places where older adults can take physical activity programs that specifically focus on fall prevention,” says Cindy Green, who has a master’s in public health and is the program manager at SRHD for health and human development. “Usually, when older adults start to feel unsteady on their feet, they decrease their activity even more, but that can make matters worse,” she adds. “With increased balance, strength and flexibility, older adults feel more independent, can sometimes decrease their reliance on assistive devices, and do things they have not been able to do for a while.”
To provide seniors with a program that’s effective and convenient, the Health District first trained a small army of fitness and health professionals in a program called “Stay Active and Independent for Life” (SAIL). Troy Vannucci, a physical therapist at ProFormance Physical Therapy in Pullman, took part. “The goal I had was to gain the experience and knowledge to bring the SAIL program down to the Palouse region,” he says. His new class is up and running, with participants ranging in age from their early 60s to 80s. A number of programs are also offered in Spokane, and one will start in Colfax this summer.
“We’re trying to focus on developing classes in neighborhoods [with] a higher density of seniors,” Green says. Three-times-a-week classes are either free or low-cost, and the exercises can be done sitting or standing. Green says many seniors chose to attend with a friend, but there are also opportunities to meet new people.
Upon starting the program, Vannucci says, participants are given a few simple tests: “We have three fitness checks that we do when somebody starts the class, and we reassess those every three months to see how they’re doing.”
Getting fit isn’t the only goal, however. “There’s a lot built into the class — it’s the exercise, of course, but there’s also education about other important factors,” Green emphasizes. “Get your vision checked, get your meds checked, make sure your home is safe.”
If you are interested in attending a class, call 324-1530 or visit www.activeoptions.org, where you can type in your zip code and find classes nearby.
TOP FOUR WAYS TO PREVENT FALLS
• Begin a regular exercise program.
• Have your health care provider review your medicines.
• Have your vision checked.
• Make your home safer
Ready-Made Fitness Walks
Walking is one of the best ways to get fit — no membership fees, no waiting for machines, and best of all, you get to enjoy some fresh air. What you usually don’t get is the satisfaction of an LED display telling you how far you’ve gone and how many calories you’ve eliminated through your efforts. And what if you need to use the restroom in the middle of your workout? New fold-out walking maps have been published by the Spokane Regional Health District for people who would like to walk their way to fitness can solve those dilemmas.
Routes were chosen based not just on the attractiveness and interest of the scenery along the way, but also on safety, and perhaps most importantly, the availability of restrooms. The maps show the distance, number of steps and average calories burned, as well as pointing out interesting spots along the way. A brisk walk for 30 minutes, five times a week is all it takes to improve your health.
Maps are available online at www.srhd.org/topics/walkingmaps.asp or at regional libraries and at the Health District’s office at 1101 W. College Avenue in Spokane.