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Program aims to reduce falls among Arizona’s older residents

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PHOENIX – Roseann Redwine was trying out a new prescription known to make people dizzy when she stumbled and fell in her bathroom. After the accident, she nursed not only injuries to her face and neck but the fear that she could fall again.

“My balance is not that good; I am 85 years old,” Redwine said. “And falling is embarrassing.”

To combat this insecurity, she signed up for Stand Still Fall Prevention, a free class offered by Mesa’s A.T. Still University. Every Friday morning for eight weeks, Redwine and six classmates meet in a city of Phoenix senior center, sharing their experiences and learning how to avoid falls.

Through the program, launched in 2008, physical therapy and nursing students from A.T. Still and Grand Canyon University have taught more than 1,500 Arizona seniors strategies and exercises to help them avoid falls. During the spring semester, 60 students are offering the class at 28 locations around the Valley.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, falls were the leading cause of injury-related death in 2012 for Arizonans 65 and older.

Kyle Christakos, an A.T. Still doctoral student in physical therapy who was Redwine’s instructor on this Friday, said seniors tend to accept falls as a part of aging. But it doesn’t have to be that way, he said.

“Seniors afraid of falling go out less, and their physical activity level is lower,” he said. “If you’re weak, your chances of falling are higher.”

The program equips seniors to stay active by introducing exercises while also boosting their confidence through a series of discussions.

Suzanne Campbell, one of Redwine’s classmates, shared in this session that she was putting on animal print rain boots when her feet slipped out from under her.

Telling her story, Campbell laughed. Her classmates did too.

After the gaiety died down, some advice from Christakos: Shoes with better soles would protect against both rain and falling.

They finished this session, their second, with some stretches. Later sessions focus more on exercises, including taking walks to build stamina.

“The exercises strengthen and invigorate people,” said Elton Bordenave, director of A.T. Still’s Aging Studies Project.

Redwine said she no longer thinks her tumble in the bathroom is a natural part of life. Instead, it never has to happen again.

“You can figure out ways to make things you are afraid of disappear, and I am ready for that,” she said.