MDMH Frank and Jarvis

Missy Frank and Holly Jarvis will present the free Health Education class on Balance at 5:30 p.m. March 8, at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital.

Balance is key to independence, safety and life.

Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital is presenting a free health education class on balance at 5:30 p.m., on Thursday, March 8. Learn how subtle changes take place with aging and gain tips and activities for improving balance.

Doors open 45 minutes before class starts for community members to take part in a four-station balance assessment.

The balance presentation will be given by Holly Jarvis, a physical therapist for 43 years, and Missy Frank, a physical therapist assistant for six years.

Jarvis said the class was designed because the newest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show that nationwide one in four adults suffer from falls.

“There is an incredible statistic that 27,000 older adults die as a result of falls – that’s 74 older adults that die every day – that’s insane,” Jarvis said. “This talk is to help people avoid falls. Balance goes downhill as you age but it goes faster if you’re not active.”

There are many factors increasing risk for balance issues including: environment (tripping and slipping hazards), blood pressure readings, medications, joint flexibility, strength, vision and proprioception (receptors in joints, ligaments and tendons that send information to the brain about where our body parts are without looking at them).

The first three factors will not be addressed in the balance talk on Thursday.

“We’ll address factors we can give people something to do about,” Jarvis said. “The flexibility of your joints have a big part in keeping your balance, how strong you are, vision is always a part of people balancing – especially as you get older and especially in the dark.”

Jarvis said an easy solution can be using a night light.

“An example of proprioception is if you’re out walking and hit a little pebble you react,” she said. “You have all those little joints so a little pebble can give you enough information for your foot to react quickly and keep your balance. We’ll talk about the kinds of exercises you can do to keep your feet and ankles flexible.”

Jarvis said ankles stiffen with age and neglect and that it can happen so slowly that people may not notice they no longer have mobility.

Frank said the fear of falling is the number one risk factor for falling.

“People get so nervous about falling that when they lose their balance they get really rigid,” she said. “They don’t have that nice fluid reaction to catch their balance. If there is no flexible joints and strength it is compounded.”

Jarvis and Frank will have the audience practices exercises, movements and reactions important to avoiding falls.

“People will go home with things they can be doing right away,” Jarvis said. “People should come early to take the balance test and learn their appropriate starting place for exercises.”

The balance class is for people with neuropathy, diabetes, post-stroke, older adults and adult children of older adults.

“You can take this information home to your parents and help them be aware,” Jarvis said. “We’ll have take-home tests and information about fall risks. We’ll also give information for home assessments to make homes safer.”

Frank said attending the class will alert caregivers and families about fall issues.

Jarvis said people don’t realize what a big danger falling is and one key danger is getting up quickly.

“Either a phone call - and they don’t have their phone with them - or they’ve got to use the restroom,” she said. “Especially, it can happen first thing in the morning. That’s the perfect storm –low blood pressure, and joints and things aren’t ready to move yet and add a few throw rugs and boom – a fall happens.”

Jarvis warns that even over the counter sleep aids can disrupt balance perception. She recommends planning for safety using night lights, grab bars, allowing more time for older eyes to dilate and exercising.

“It's never too late, but it is much easier to keep it instead of trying to regain it,” Jarvis said. “There are things to do at home.”

The balance talk will cover how aging impacts balance, activities for improving balance and lists of resources.

The hour-long talk will take place at the Blodgett and Canyon View conference rooms at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, 1200 Westwood Drive in Hamilton. For more information call 406-363-2211 or visit online mdmh.org.