Partnerships help to make strides in fall prevention.

Staying on her feet is important for 81-year old Jane Merlin. The Saskatoon resident has always been cautious about walking and stepping correctly, but after participating in Saskatoon Health Region’s Staying on Your Feet program, she’s even more so.

Jane Merlin

“The program was offered at my retirement residence,” says Merlin who had just moved to Saskatchewan from Ontario. “I wanted to improve my balance. I had never fallen and I didn’t want to.”

Merlin says the program helped her understand that she was vulnerable to falls and that a fall could limit her ability to enjoy life.

In Saskatchewan falls in older adults in 1998 amounted to $56 million in direct health-care costs. There are 3,000 hospitalizations annually due to falls, 18 percent result in a transfer to a nursing home or geriatric centre, and six per cent result in death.

Staying on Your Feet is a program developed by Health Region Senior Recreation Therapist Janet Barnes and Senior Physical Therapist Jo Ann Walker Johnston, to help reduce the number of falls that are occurring in seniors.

The program is operated in the community in collaboration with the Forever…in motion program which is an exercise program where community-dwelling older adults exercise together and is usually lead by a peer leader. Currently, there are more than 60 urban and rural Forever…in motion sites and more than 100 volunteer leaders in the Region. The goal is that the balance exercises that people learn in the Staying on Your Feet program are incorporated into the Forever…in motion program.

Staying on Your Feet provides education, and strength and balance exercises that are designed to improve people’s strength and balance, reduce the number of falls as well as to reduce the fear of falling. Barnes says one study showed that almost 50 per cent of community-dwelling seniors over age 80 have developed a fear of falling. Through exercise and education, participants’ balance and balance-confidence scores improved and the incidence of falls went down dramatically. A balance-confidence survey helps determine perceptions about doing certain activities. She says program participants were surveyed both before and after participating in Staying on Your Feet. “After they completed the program, we saw a 10 per cent increase in confidence among the participants.”

Merlin is one of those people. And she believes strongly in the benefits of the program. So much so that she joined a group of older adults called the Meri Misfits who travel around the Saskatoon area to bring the message of fall prevention to fellow seniors.

“I have arthritis of the spine, but you learn to cope with these things,” says Merlin who uses a cane as a safety measure when she walks outdoors. She encourages other older adults to use what she calls their “badges of honour.” “Canes, walkers, anything that will help us steady ourselves. Don’t refuse to use these badges of honour,” she says.