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Staying balanced

Variety of ways seniors can try and avoid falls

April 24, 2011
By RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

Each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In that age group, falls are the leading cause of injury death.

However, there is plenty people can do to keep themselves from becoming a statistic.

Bill Oates, the director of rehab and sports medicine for Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, said people do not need to sweat a lot to improve their balance.

Article Photos

Bill Oates, the director of rehab and sports medicine for Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, demonstrates an exercise to improve balance to Dorothy “Dot” Milnyczuk of Vail Mills, center, and Maggie Luck, the Lifeline coordinator for Littauer, at HealthLink Littauer in the Fulton?County YMCA in Johnstown on?Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor

In a handout for a recent class about improving balance and preventing falls at HealthLink Littauer in Johnstown, Oates noted the goal of balance exercises is to help people train their brain to activate the muscles needed to maintain equilibrium. Just 10 minutes of daily balance exercises can make a difference, he said.

"You're not grunting and sweating [while] practicing," Oates said.

On a handout with the sheet, the exercises show a variety of standing positions people can hold and repeat to train their muscles to maintain equilibrium.

Dorothy "Dot" Milnyczuk of Vail Mills said she attended the class at HealthLink and the series of exercises suggested has already been a big help.

Milnyczuk noted she was able to get her grandchildren doing her exercises with her one day.

"Of course, they beat me by a mile," she said with a laugh.

Maggie Luck, the Lifeline coordinator for Littauer who also took part in the improving balance and fall prevention program, said falls are a national problem, with billions of dollars being spent each year on treating the problems from them.

Lifeline is one way people can get help if they need it. According to the Littauer website - - Lifeline is a emergency response system that links a subscriber to 24-hour assistance at the push of a button. The button is on a wristband or necklace, so if people do need help they can get assistance as soon as possible.

"The longer people spend on the floor, the longer their recovery time will be," Luck said.

Oates cited as an example a woman who fell and spent five days on the ground. She recently was admitted to Nathan Littauer Nursing Home.

"[The woman] will be facing a longer rehab than if someone had found her 20 minutes after she fell," he said.

Oates noted about 40 to 50 percent of nursing home admissions are related to falls.

While there are 560 Lifeline Littauer subscribers and the number is expected to rise, Luck said, one of the things they like to focus on is prevention.

Something such as medication can cause falls, she said. It is important for people to go over their list of medications with their doctor to make sure they are avoiding any potential bad interactions or side effects that can cause disorientation.

Luck and Oates said many falls are the result of hazards where people are walking, such as power cords or throw rugs.

In the fall prevention tips handed out at the class, Oates noted there are plenty of areas for people to keep clutter free and check to make sure potential hazards are removed or mitigated, including: floors, stairs, kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms.

Milnyczuk suffered a broken hip in 2008 because of a fall. While it has taken work, she said she can see the improvement in her body from taking part in exercise classes and doing balance exercises.

Getting exercise and working on their balance are things she said she would encourage other seniors to do as well. She credits classes she takes at the YMCA particularly with helping her.

"Just get out of the house and do it," she said, noting that taking classes at a place like the YMCA offers other benefits. "You get to meet other people, socialize and get your exercise."

Highest rate

Montgomery County residents ages 65 and older have the highest rate of fall injuries resulting in hospitalizations in the state.

Dana Plank, community health educator for the Montgomery County Public Health Department, said that information came from the state Department of Health. While local agencies are still collecting more details about those injuries, Plank will give multiple presentations about fall prevention tips.

"All of us want to be able to live in our own home as long as possible," she said. "This information can help with that."

A few tips in her presentation include:

Medication - Like Luck, Plank also said people need to make their primary care physician aware of the drugs they are taking. Due to a variety of reasons, the number and type of drugs people are on can change.

She noted in rare cases, people have sometimes been required to take 25 to 30 medications.

A yearly eye exam can help prevent falls. Eyesight can get worse in the span of a year, Plank said.

Lighting also is very important. Good lighting is important anywhere in the home, she said.

Plank will give a presentation at the Arkell Center in Canajoharie at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

She also has presentations scheduled at: Valley View Apartments in Palatine Bridge on Friday; at Fonda Terrace Apartments on May 10; and a meeting with a Tribes Hill senior group on June 2.

Rosemary McGuire, the director of physical rehab services for St. Mary's Hospital in?Amsterdam, said when people who have suffered fall injuries come into rehab, they test their balance. When they end their course of rehab, they test their balance again.

The tests, and showing people the improvement they can make, combined with the injury the person suffered, tend to be a good motivator, she said.

"They can see the improvement," McGuire said.

Plans can be tailored when the patient is leaving to make certain they will continue to exercise, she said. If a patient does not think they can do the required repetitions of an exercise or does not have the right equipment, the number or type of exercises can be changed to fit their skill level, she said.

For example, McGuire said, if a person does not have free weights, sometimes a can of vegetables can substitute as a weight.

"We can be creative," she said.

She noted there also are services available for people to continue to improve their balance and strength once they recover fully and leave rehab.

In addition to other services available at the hospital, McGuire said there are services available at home that can help with strength and balance, such as the Gentiva Safe Strides program. The program, launched in 2003, was specifically designed to treat balance dysfunction, a news release said.

McGuire also noted that programs such as Silver Sneakers, offered at some local senior centers and YMCAs, can help improve fitness in general.

Caroline Kruger, 70, of Tribes Hill recently broke her ankle at her home. After taking care of a leak under her kitchen sink, she tried to steady herself when she was getting up by putting her right hand on the sink cabinet.

Unfortunately, the door came right off, she said.

She is still working on her physical rehabilitation exercises, she said.

"[I'm] using muscles I never thought I had," she said.

However, Krugers said she sees the value in the work and plans to continue exercising whether it is at home or coming back to St. Mary's.

Randie Salmon, a family nurse practitioner at St. Mary's, said people are more likely to fall if their feet hurt. People can talk to their physician about setting up an appointment with a podiatrist to deal with the problem, she said.

Salmon said it is not always possible to avoid a common hazard - ice on sidewalks and parking lots - so people may want to keep kitty liter in their car, ready to be thrown down on a slippery surface.

For more information, visit the CDC website at



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