... and they can get up

OHSU program helps Ashland seniors work on remaining physically fit and upright
OHSU nursing student Emily Brown works with Carol Sobotka of Ashland, during an health assessment at the Ashland YMCA designed to help seniors avoid falls.Jamie Lusch

Senior citizens working to reduce their chances of falling were put to the test Thursday at the Ashland Family YMCA.

Organized by Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing students, Thursday's test was a follow-up to a November symposium aimed at educating aging adults about the dangers of taking a spill.

Only 13 of the 64 senior citizens who attended the November symposium came back for the follow-up meeting, said Tamar Salomon, an OHSU student who led the exercises, but those who did made significant strides.

"We seem to have a very active senior population here in Ashland. A lot of 65 and up folks are exercising almost every day," Salomon said. "Staying active as long as possible is very important as you start to age. It improves physical mobility and greatly reduces the chance of becoming a fall victim."

Retired elementary school teacher Carol Sobotka is a part of Ashland's active senior population.

She attended November's symposium and Thursday's follow-up appointment, where student nurses measured her improvements on the same series on controlled exercises she completed six months ago.

Sobotka and other seniors raced around cones, attempted the "back scratch test," clasping one hand over one shoulder with one behind their back to determine their upper-body flexibility, and pumped out arm curls with a light-weight dumbbell to test their upper-body strength during the roughly 20-minute test.

"I think I did very well for my age group," said Sobotka, 69, of Ashland. "I feel very physically fit. I have no major health problems ... I exercise regularly now. When we were younger there was no need for it because we were physically fit."

Sobotka said she goes with her husband to the YMCA five mornings a week and makes a round through the exercise machines.

"When you look around there other people that are even older than we are. They are still exercising and they older than us, so there is no excuse not to exercise," she said. "It makes you feel good."

Because she is so active, Sobotka said, it wasn't the fear of falling that led her to November's symposium.

"I wanted to see how I ranked with other people in my age category," she said.

In an exercise that required participants to sit down in and stand up from a chair using only leg strength, Sobotka nearly doubled her score from November by standing and sitting 25 times in 30 seconds, she said.

Nursing student Alexandra Parsons, who helped organize Thursday's event and led exercises, said educating seniors about the risks of falling and how best to keep from falling is a critically important health topic.

"It's very preventive, just like any disease," she said. "We're just waiting too late to educate people about fall prevention."

According to the Center of Disease Control, one in three adults 65 and older falls each year, resulting in more than 2.3 million emergency room visits and 660,000 hospitalizations annually. The direct medical costs add up to about $30 billion, the CDC website says.

In 2009, about 20,400 seniors died as the result of falls, according to the website.

The answer isn't reducing activity, Parsons said, it's about increasing activity, staying physically fit and being educated about risks and preventive measures.

For those who missed November's symposium, a good place for information, she said, is the Center for Disease Control's program labeled "Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries."

The program's website can be found at www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/Falls/steadi/index.html.

Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at samuelcwheeler@gmail.com.


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