Matter of Balance in Action: “I had been spending too much time sitting, but this class has helped make me more active.”

“One of the pleasures of bringing health self-management education into the community is hearing the stories of the people who attend the workshops,” explains Christy Lau, Program Director, Health Self-Management Services at Partners in Care. “Dorothy and Albert stood out, because their devotion to each other was evident from the first class. It was so touching.”

Dorothy and Albert began attending a Matter of Balance class at Arcadia Recreation & Community Services Center in the San Gabriel Valley in January 2017 after the Arcadia Fire Department began referring individuals who dialed 911 for assistance after a fall. Every year 2.8 million older people are treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries, with just under 250,000 ER visits in 2016 in California alone. As a result, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) has funded Partners in Care to create a sustainable model to reduce fall risks in the state, and the direct outreach via fire departments is a key part of that effort. 10% of calls to the Arcadia Fire Department are fall-related, the majority concerning people 60 years and older.

Dorothy and Albert, a former gymnast, have been married for 70 years. “I came along because I wanted to help my wife across the parking lot” says Albert. “But being here has made me think a lot about ways to be safer.”

Dorothy has experienced one fall in recent years, but it was when she suddenly lost her hearing that she began to experience serious problems with balance. “I knew I needed to get stronger. The biggest benefit of this class has been developing better muscles. I had been spending too much time sitting, but this class has helped make me more active. I can feel the difference when I stand up out of my chair.”

Matter of Balance is an evidence-based program for people who have fallen in the past, may be at risk of falling and who have reduced their activities due to a fear of falling. Participants learn to change their environment to reduce fall risk factors, to view falls and the fear of falling as controllable, set realistic goals to increase activity, and exercise to increase strength and balance.

“I’ve made quite a few changes around our home. I’ve done some work to the bannister on our stairs, and we’ve put a non-slip mat in the shower,” explains Albert. “And he’s made a new shelf to put groceries on when we’ve been to the store,” adds Dorothy. “Walking upstairs carrying things is not a good idea.”

Demonstrating the enthusiasm among Arcadia’s older residents for education on how to avoid falls, the first two Matter of Balance workshops have been filled to capacity. Fire departments in other districts of Los Angeles are paying attention, with interest in the model from Monrovia, Torrance and West Hollywood.

Images: Top (right) Dorothy and her husband, Albert. “Being here has made me think a lot about ways to be safer” says Albert.
Bottom (left) Participants of the first MOB class in Arcadia pose with their completion certificates alongside Chief Valentine of the Arcadia Fire Department, and their coaches from Partners in Care, Christy and Cassandra.