“Forward…left…back…right,” calls out the young man to the semi-circle of older adults in front of him. What at first sounds like a dance lesson is really an exercise that is part of a fall prevention class at the Hurst Senior Activities Center. And in this class, the teachers are learning as much as the students.
Instructors Ryan Wigley and Chris Davis are among 42 physical therapy students at theUniversity of Texas Health Science Center who are teaching “A Matter of Balance”(AMOB) classes as a “service learning” part of their academic training. The AMOB classes are part of United Way’s LIVE WELL health initiative, which helps people maximize health and avoid the hospital and nursing home.
Over eight weeks, the older adults attending AMOB sessions learn how to prevent falls,minimize injury when falling, and how to get up afterward. Gentle exercises promotestrength, flexibility and balance. The class also builds confidence. As one participant put it, “I don’t have that fear anymore that if I fall, I’m going to break a hip and die.”
Leading the AMOB sessions “definitely has helped me take things that we learn in the classroom and actually apply them,” said Ryan (in green shirt above). Chris said that when he becomes a physical therapist and has his own patients, “I’ll be able to understand them or relate to them a little bit better based on what we’ve experienced here.”
“The seniors get to kind of be the experts to the students because they know more than the students about aging and falling; the real-life situations,” said Lindsay Lindeman. Lindsay is the AMOB facilitator at Senior Citizen Services of Greater Tarrant County, which facilitates the student program. As for the UNTHSC students, “They’ve all done a great job being patient and respectful, responsible and taking initiative in the classes,” she said.
“It was a friendly group of people, the instructors were right on the button, and I learned a lot of basic, simple skills that will help us around the house,” said Evelyn Englert, 86, of Colleyville. Hazel Zak of Hurst, who turns 80 in May, signed up for the class so she would have better balance when she went line dancing.
“This has made me very aware of different things that I hadn’t thought about,” said Hazel (shown here in red outfit with her AMOB completion certificate and classmate Midge Norris). “In the class we had talked about putting things down instead of trying to carry heavy things and walk down steps. I kept that in my mind when we were camping, and instead of walking down the steps of the camper with things in my hand, I laid them down, did the three steps and then reached back in and pulled the items out that I was carrying to the outside table.”
The AMOB class members are evidence of the positive effect exercise can have on balance and aging. “You can see their level of abilities compared to people who don’t exercise,” said Ryan. “You can just tell the difference it makes.”