Note: This article was written prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home orders. All in-person programs at Oasis Albuquerque have been canceled through May 31, 2020, and possibly longer. Some Oasis programs are available via livestream. More information about Oasis programming can be found by visiting www.oasisabq.org or calling 505-884-4529.
While many of the changes we experience throughout our lives are natural parts of aging, falling is not one of them. Numerous activities can help prevent falls, such as exercising and mitigating fall hazards in the home. Oasis Albuquerque, a nonprofit organization that promotes successful aging, is helping New Mexicans take proactive steps to decrease their risk of falling.
To support those efforts, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) awarded Oasis a $25,000 grant this year for its Fit and Free from Falls programming, which includes evidence-based health and fitness classes focusing on balance, strength, disease management and prevention, and other topics.
One popular class offered in this programming is Tai Chi for Health. In the series, an instructor leads participants through gentle movements designed to enhance balance and decrease joint pain.
“You can’t be healthy unless you move,” said Carol, a Tai Chi participant. “Even if you can’t move fast, which I no longer can, this is a very good way to get yourself out and get moving.”
A Matter of Balance, another course in the Fit and Free from Falls programming, combines discussion and exercise to help enrollees prevent falls.
“These classes outline how they can really be active managers of their health on a day-to-day basis,” said Cynthia LaCoe-Maniaci, PhD, health and wellness coordinator at Oasis. “With our Better Balance program, we generally see increases in lower body strength, endurance and agility.”
The fear of falling cycle
According to the New Mexico Adult Falls Prevention Coalition, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for people age 65 and older in the state. Even when falling does not result in injuries, suffering from a fall can be life-changing.
“When somebody experiences a fall or sees themselves as being at high risk for a fall, they can sometimes develop a fear of falling that leads them to start to withdraw from social activities.” said LaCoe-Maniaci.
This fear can cause people to avoid movement and exercise, resulting in loss of strength and balance, which puts them at greater risk for falling. This can lead to experiencing a fall and feeling increasingly fearful. The phenomenon is known as the fear of falling of cycle. The Fit and Free from Falls programming aims to help people decrease this fear.
“I’ve had a couple of falls,” said Carol, a participant in Tai Chi for Health. “I haven’t really injured myself significantly, but it scares me when I have fallen.”
The Tai Chi classes have helped Carol improve her balance and become more mindful of her movements.
“I’ve brought myself up to a much higher standard of being able to get around and do what I want to do without falling or feeling insecure in my balance,” Carol said. “It makes me feel like I can continue to do what I want to do and not have to limit my life.”
The Fit and Free from Falls program helps older adults maintain, regain or minimize declines in strength and provides an important network of peer support.
Expanding access to falls prevention
The grant to Oasis, which comes from BCBSNM’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Families® initiative, helps reach older adults who may not otherwise have access to this programming by allowing Oasis to provide classes at reduced or no cost.
Over the years, BCBSNM has provided more than $200,000 in grants for Oasis programming, which has helped the organization expand its health and wellness programming and offer evidence-based classes.
“Classes that focus on falls prevention have grown exponentially because of the support of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico,” said Kathleen Raskob, executive director of Oasis. “It’s made a huge difference in the lives of older adults in the Albuquerque metro area.”