Step out with balance

Despite a year of hard knocks, Beth Robinson is as determined as ever to maintain an independent lifestyle.

The 77-year-old wasn't able to use an arm for four months last year after an early-morning dash to pick basil from the herb garden resulted in a dislocated shoulder and nerve damage after she slipped on timber decking.

A few months after that, Robinson fell heavily on to a cycle track near her home after being knocked over by a child on a pushbike.

"Last year knocked me around and I was pretty apprehensive, just because of those two falls," she says.

The former relationship counsellor, who finished working only last year and still keeps active through swimming, thought the Stepping On program would give her "a fighting chance" at maintaining her independence.

It is designed for people living at home who have fallen in the past year or who are fearful of falling.

Each year, one in three people over 65 will experience a fall, with many falling more than once. Falls are a major cause of injury in this age group and they lead to about 1870 hospital admissions each year in the Illawarra Shoalhaven region.

Robinson started the seven-week Stepping On program last year, having to pull out midway through for gall bladder surgery, before starting the program again a few weeks ago.

Improving balance and helping to build confidence are the main aspects the program focuses on to help participants maintain independence.

A physiotherapist facilitates the two-hour sessions, which are held from Milton in the south to Helensburgh in the north.

In addition to learning exercises to help improve balance, the sessions also include talks by dietitians, pharmacists and occupational health workers to help participants gain information on keeping active at home.

"The exercises help you build up your strength," Robinson says.

"Gaining strength stops you from toppling right over.

"I feel more confident, I just feel safer."

There is a balance measurement in week one, followed by a reassessment at week seven. One of the exercises Robinson does is a plank walk, with one foot in front of the other, knees bent. She can now do 16 steps after her first attempt only scored three.

"This gives me a fighting chance [of maintaining independence]," Robinson says, adding that she was able to walk across a park at Gwynneville more confidently.

"You've got to do the exercise, but a lot of people don't.

"Part of it's standing on your toes 10 times . . . well, I can do that while I'm brushing my teeth."

Through the program, Robinson has also learned how to make her home safer to reduce the risk of falls.

Other exercises include walking sideways and standing on one leg while holding the other leg out sideways.

"This is a different kind of fitness - it's about balance and maintaining your independence."

For details on the program, see sidebar.

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