Putting the community on steady footing

By Jenn Watt
Published Oct.10 2017

It’s Thursday morning and participants in the Falls Prevention class are sitting in a semi-circle around instructor Jane Grieves. They’re chatting amongst themselves as they wait for the last member to arrive. Cathy McIlmurray hurries in the room apologizing she still smells like the food she was preparing at the Community Kitchen.

They’re ready to begin.

Grieves has a quick conversation about calcium and tells the group about a website that helps track whether you’re getting enough. They talk about vitamin D and the importance of good nutrition. It’s more of a conversation than a lecture with banter about the benefits of eating dandelions or whether okra is worth the hassle.

Grieves divides the room into several simple activity stations. Based on her knowledge of each participant’s needs she assigns different tasks. Some do their exercises seated. Others need the support of a chair in case they get off balance. Others have a bit more mobility and help with setting up.

Robert Heeps is taking the class for his second time. His career as a firefighter exposed him to chemicals that led to neuropathy he said which means he cannot feel his hands and most of his legs. It started about 15 years ago he said.

The class helps him practice stretching balancing and building muscle. Heeps said he’s broken his back four times by falling.

“Because without balance you stand up and fall backwards and land on you-know-where” he said.

McIlmurray is also taking the class again. Five years ago she fell and broke her hip and signed up to help with recovery. Now she said she’s in the class to help with muscle pain and improve balance.

The class runs twice a week for 12 weeks and is broken up into two components: exercise and instruction. While the exercises train and stretch the muscles the instruction helps avoid making decisions that could lead to injury or a fall.

Pam Carroll was falling nearly every day before she signed up.

“A year ago I could not stay on two feet at all” she said.

One day she was pushing a wheelbarrow up a hill when she found herself on the ground with the handle up against her neck.

Stretching the muscles has helped and so has techniques learned in class she said.

“If you do get off balance you don’t have to fall” she said referencing information on lowering the centre of gravity.

“I am noticing a difference” she said. “My last fall was two months ago.”

Joan Aubin signed up for the class as a preventative measure. Her mother broke her hip when she was 92 and Aubin wanted to avoid that situation for herself.

“I saw the notice [for the class] and thought it can’t hurt” she said.

“I haven’t fallen but I don’t want to.”

Class members joke with each other and keep an eye out as they try new exercises. When Sheila Robb takes on the foam roller half-round classmates spot her in front and behind. Robb said she wanted to try it out even if she wasn’t yet entirely comfortable with the activity.

She had surgery on her foot which means she needs to wear orthotics all the time and uses a cane or walker when out and about. Being a bit off balance motivated her to do the class.

“Everybody can always improve a little bit” she said. “And it’s lots of fun with good company.”

Heeps demonstrated the increased flexibility he has in his arm which can now easily comb back his hair. His classmates chuckle along with him as he makes sweeping motions through his hair.

You must be registered to participate in the Falls Prevention class which is provided free by Community Support Services at Haliburton Highlands Health Services. The next round will be in January with sessions in both Minden and Haliburton.

Assessments are done by an occupational therapist when participants sign up and then again when the program is done to measure progress Tina Kiiver community outreach co-ordinator with CSS said.

There are also drop-in balanced fitness classes (which are perfect for those who have completed the Falls Prevention program) in Haliburton Minden and Wilberforce.

Contact Tina Kiiver to register for the next Falls Prevention session or to get details on drop-in balanced fitness classes at 705-457-2941 ext. 2938 or email tikiiver@hhhs.ca .

This month is Community Support Month celebrating the staff and volunteers who provide the supports making lives better in our community.

The Community Support Services division of Haliburton Highlands Health Services provides the following services: transportation emergency response Meals on Wheels friendly visiting adult day program falls prevention balanced fitness foot care hospice palliative care supportive housing assisted living Home First/Home at Last social recreation Home Help and the GAIN program.