- Associated Press - Saturday, August 26, 2017

MILFORD, Del. (AP) - After Chris Shantz fell off a ladder at his Milford home for the sixth time in six months, he figured it was time to get some help.

The 60-year-old wants to continue to ride his bike with his wife and to work on his backyard. His body has taken a toll over the decades, with a handful of shoulder, neck and knee surgeries.

But he hasn’t broken anything in a fall - yet.

“The issue is statistically I’m going to break something sometime,” he said. “I’ve been lucky.”

Shantz recently enrolled in A Matter of Balance at Bayhealth with the hopes of preventing future accidents. The nationally-recognized program helps older Americans who are concerned about falling and want to increase their exercise activity. The classes, offered statewide in Delaware, are run through the state Office of Volunteerism.

Other classes dealing with balance are offered by state hospitals.

Falls are the number one cause of injuries and death in older Americans. As Delaware’s senior population grows - there will be more than 300,000 Delawareans over the age of 60 by 2030 - demand for the classes is growing.

Seniors experienced 29 million falls in 2014, resulting in seven million injuries. This cost about $31 billion in annual Medicare costs, according to the CDC. One in every three adults 65 or older falls at least once a year, the CDC said.

Experts say these kinds of classes can help seniors stay active or become more so, and even reduce potential medical costs.

A Matter of Balance consists of eight sessions, lasting about two hours each, in which instructors teach people 60 and older exercises that help with their balance, ways to avoid falling in their homes, what to do if they fall and how to create personal exercise plans.

Sarah Smith, a board certified specialist in geriatrics at the University of Delaware, said older adults can fall for a variety of reasons, ranging from poor vision to neuropathy.

Often, seniors fall because they lose muscle mass as they age. This can result in changes in sensation, slow agility and loss of balance, Smith said.

Most falls for seniors stem from everyday activities such as walking their dog or carrying a laundry basket down a flight of stairs, she said. But even these trivial tasks can lead to serious injuries, such as a hip fracture or a brain injury.

Statistics have shown that falling once puts you at risk for even more falls, she said.

Susan Fox, program coordinator for Delaware’s Matter of Balance classes, said about 60 seniors are taking the class at five different locations in the state. Each class can have up to 16 participants.

There will be eight classes this fall and it’s likely the program will continue to expand, she said.

The classes are held all over the state, ranging from community centers to assisted living homes. The state program Volunteer Delaware 50+ trains all of the classes’ coaches, who are volunteers, and supplies the materials.

Fall classes in New Castle County have already been filled, Fox said. Future classes will be announced in early 2018. Two classes are being offered in Sussex County next month.

Bayhealth and Christiana Care Health System set up their own schedule of classes. Christiana will begin a course on Aug. 29 and does about six throughout the year. Bayhealth runs about eight classes every year and is starting a new course on Sept. 7.

Bayhealth will offer 11 classes next year due to demand, particularly in the retiree-heavy southern part of the state, said hospital spokeswoman Danielle Pro-Hudson.

The Matter of Balance program was created in the 1990s by researchers at the University of Boston’s Roybal Center for Enhancement of Late-Life Function. It came to Delaware in 2009 through a grant.

The program will receive about $25,000 in federal funding for the upcoming fiscal year. The money comes from the federal Administration for Community Living but does not reflect the in-kind services that are offered by the program, said Jill Fredel, spokeswoman for Delaware Health and Social Services.

In the classes, the participants work through about 20 exercises that help strengthen different muscles. A good chunk of the class consists of the seniors discussing fears they have about falling and barriers that prevent them from being physically active.

Dan Wagner, a Bayhealth non-clinical educator who helps run the classes, said the fear of falling can actually contribute to falling. It’s common for seniors who are scared of potential accidents to become inactive, thinking falls will occur when they exercise.

Most falls take place in people’s kitchens and bathrooms, he said.

A lack of physical exercise will not only lead to a loss of muscle strength and balance, but also isolation, depression and anxiety.

“Some of them have had friends who have fallen,” he said. “They’re thinking more about it.”

Paul Keiser, 89, decided to sign up for the balance class because he wants to prevent any potential falls, especially when he’s standing on a ladder to change the smoke detector’s batteries in his house.

The Smyrna resident has noticed lately it’s become harder to get around. He hopes the class’ exercises will make it easier.

“A lot of times when I walk, I walk like I’m drunk,” Keiser said. “That’s no fun.”

___

Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com

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