August 21, 2001
Class keeps seniors on their toes
92-year-old, wearing glasses designed to deliberately obscure
her vision, teeters back and forth, trying to stay upright
on a wobbly rocker board. A woman, age 72, attempts to walk
across the room, as a ball is bounced directly in her path.
It's not a hazing ritual for senior citizens, it's a class
at the CSUS Life Center, designed to reduce their risk of
falling. And in each case, there's a student intern by their
side, keeping them out of harm's way.
Falling is the leading cause of injury among seniors, resulting
in about 200,000 hip fractures each year. Of those, a staggering
33 percent will die within the first year, says CSUS kinesiology
professor Scott Modell, who created the fall risk reduction
class with physical therapist Lois Boulgarides, a CSUS kinesiology
lecturer and co-director of the Life Center.
The class meets for an hour, two days a week, for seven weeks
in the University's Julia Morgan House. The class features
one-on-one balance training, matching student volunteers and
older adults. Some exercises are designed to increase strength,
flexibility and range of motion. Others increase the participants'
confidence thereby reducing fear of falling. Much of the class
also focuses on the sensory systems seniors rely on for balance
and on strategies for keeping balance if one of the sensory
systems is impaired.
"We try to target one of the systems and challenge it,"
says Boulgarides. The idea is to simulate activities the seniors
might have to face in every day life so they can learn adaptive
For example, as people get older, they become more dependent
on their vision for balance at the same time their vision
is diminishing. So the instructors put the seniors on an unsteady
surface and have them close their eyes. Or they put obstacles
in the path for them to step over as they cross the room.
They also have their elderly clients practice getting up off
the floor, so they know if they fall, they can get back up.
All the while, Boulgarides and her students are careful to
explain why they're having the seniors do what they're doing.
"There's a reason we do everything, though sometimes
we seem to do the silliest things," she says.
The student interns, from the kinesiology, physical therapy
and gerontology departments, take turns teaching and leading
the class. One of pre-physical therapy student Mollie Freeman's
favorite things about the class is that the clients have varying
levels of ability, which requires her to be creative in modifying
her techniques. "They build our confidence as much as
they build theirs. It's so neat because they want to get better,"
"Everyone improves," Boulgarides agrees. "The
risk of falling becomes much less likely."
Jean Redsun says she knew she needed the class after several
falls, one of which broke her elbow. "I've been very,
very pleased with the class," she says. "It's given
me confidence to do things I wouldn't have tried to do before."
Boulgarides and Modell hope to increase the research component
of the class. In addition to the pre- and post-class data
they already compile on individual progress, they want to
see how effective the class is compared with other programs.
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