Nonprofit Profile

Class provides a step in the right direction

Carol Wagner, Leader Correspondent

Photo by Carol Wagner Stepping On classes, which help older adults prevent falls, are offered at ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano. Shown are, from left, front row, Dallas Coats, Sharon Coats, Dorothy Martin, Ruth Koenig; back row, Verna Fowler, Audrey Grueb, Mary Kreitzer, Barbara Bunker, Mary Martin, Patti Thatcher, Heidi Russell, director of aging, Shawano County Department of Human Services, and Heidi Thompson, physical therapist assistant.

A Stepping On class is a step in the right direction for many seniors.

One out of every three people 65 and older fall each year, and by 2020 injuries from falls are predicted to reach an estimated cost of $32.4 billion.

“It’s for older people who have had a fall or are afraid of falling,” said Heidi Russell, director of aging for the Shawano County Department of Human Services.

The most common injuries are fractions of the spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm and hand, she said. Falls often lead to premature nursing home admissions.

“The largest benefit to the program is the confidence boost to an older individual knowing they have the power to help themselves remain in their own home,“ Russell said.

Each participant is given a strength and balance exercise manual with exercises to improve balance and muscle strength. The exercises are taught in the second hour of the first two sessions and then are 15 minutes in the following sessions

Russell said the group helps each other stay motivated to do their exercises.

“We teach and practice both balance and strength exercises that can easily be accomplished at home,” Russell said. “A physical therapist is present during the initial teaching of the exercises to help with any possible adaptations.”

The academic part of the program is discussion about safety and falling. Speakers discuss medications, vision and community safety.

Russell said participants share stories about their falls and how they could have been prevented. She recounted how she once fell. She was in a hurry, wearing unsafe shoes, and carrying too much, she said, and fell in horse manure in a barn.

“Nothing was hurt but my pride,” Russell said. “The practice in using our critical thinking abilities is so important to view situations and say, ‘How can I make this situation more safe?’”

Stepping On was developed in Australia by Dr. Lindy Clemson and occupational therapist Megan Swann. It was implemented in Wisconsin in 2006 and is now available in 13 states.

The program has been in Shawano since 2007 and is steadily growing. Participants must walk independently and be cognitively intact.

The free classes are limited to 14 people and have been filled quickly. A second Stepping On class will begin Oct. 25, from 3-5 p.m. at the Fellman Center in Shawano.

“We also encourage as compliance increases when you are in a group, to consider joining any one of the exercise groups in the area such as Strong Bones or Silver Sneakers,” Russell said.

For information, call Russell at 715-526-4686.