Older seniors can be divided into two groups: those who have suffered a fall and those who are afraid they will.
Falls are the leading cause of injury for those 65 and older, and often lead to a loss of independence and death. The older you get, the bigger the problem, and the worse the outcome. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says those 75 and older who fall are up to five times more likely to be admitted into a long-term-care facility, such as a nursing home, than a person 65-74 who falls. And even those who are not injured or who physically recover often do not recover emotionally. Many develop a fear of falling that causes them to limit their physical activities. Because this reduces their fitness level, it puts them at a greater risk of falling.
To combat the problem, the CDC has developed Stepping On, a seven-week program offered in selected areas around the country. Suffolk is one of only three counties in New York licensed to provide Stepping On.
"The goal is to keep people independent and to allow them to live as full a life as possible," says Dr. James Tomarken, Suffolk's commissioner of health services. The results of the Stepping On program have been impressive. Tomarken says participants who complete the program reduce their risk of falling by 30 percent.
Course instructors cover an array of fall prevention topics, including improving balance, proper footwear and clothing, vision, medication management and the benefits of vitamin D and calcium.
Suffolk offers Stepping On classes throughout the year. Anyone who signs up for the program should attend all seven classes in the series. Upcoming series are at the Jefferson Ferry Assisted Living Facility in South Setauket (Mondays at 10 a.m. beginning Oct. 15), Huntington Public Library (Tuesdays at 10 a.m. beginning Oct. 30) and Gurwin Assisted Living in Commack (Wednesdays at 10 a.m. beginning Nov. 7).
The county also sponsors its own single-session, two-hour Staying Independent for Life classes at libraries and community centers. "We developed that to have our homegrown program to expand the idea of Stepping On to a larger population," Tomarken says.
And while the thought of falling is depressing, the classes are uplifting. "It's fun," Tomarken says. "People won't come if it's not enjoyable."
The programs are free, but registration is required for Stepping On and Staying Independent for Life. Call 631-853-3089. To download a brochure, go to bit.ly/suffolk-falls.