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Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for people age 65 and older in New Mexico.
But steps can be taken to help prevent falls. Exercising and lessening fall dangers in the home are two important ways to prevent falls.
Oasis Albuquerque is helping New Mexicans take proactive steps to lower their chance of falling. Oasis is a nonprofit group that promotes successful aging.
To support those efforts, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) gave Oasis a $25,000 grant this year. The grant supports the Fit and Free from Falls programming at Oasis. The program includes evidence-based health and fitness classes. The classes focus on balance, strength, disease management and prevention, and other topics.
One popular class offered is Tai Chi for Health. During class, a teacher leads participants through gentle movements. The movements are designed to help improve balance and lessen joint pain.
“You can’t be healthy unless you move,” said Susan, 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 is another course in the Fit and Free from Falls program. The class blends talk and exercise to help prevent falls.
“These classes outline how you can really be active managers of your 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.”
Even when falling does not result in injuries, it 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 workouts. Lack of physical activity can result in loss of strength and balance, which puts people at greater risk for falling. That can lead to having a fall and feeling more and more fearful. This is known as the fear of falling cycle. A Matter of Balance is designed to help people lower 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.”
Carol said the Tai Chi classes have helped her balance. She has also become more tuned in to 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 stay strong, get stronger or lessen declines in strength. The program also gives vital peer support.
The grant to Oasis comes from BCBSNM’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Families® initiative. The funds allow Oasis to give classes at reduced or no cost to older adults who may not otherwise have access.
Over the years, BCBSNM has given more than $200,000 in grants for Oasis programs. This has helped the group grow 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.”
Note: Most Oasis programs are now available via livestream. Get more information about Oasis programming at oasisabq.org, or call 505-884-4529.
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