Like many older North Dakotans, Carol Moldenauer isn’t as agile as she used to be.
So Moldenauer, who lives on a ranch near Dodge, was excited when she learned through the Stepping On program about exercises to help her improve her balance and muscle strength.
“You don’t realize you lose some mobility each year,” she says. “Exercising can greatly improve that.”
Stepping On is a national program that the North Dakota State University Extension Service and North Dakota Department of Health have partnered to present statewide. The program helps older adults learn how to reduce their risk of falling.
In addition to tips on improving balance and strength, participants learn about safe footwear, sleep and vision issues, and modifications to make their homes safer to navigate. Plus, they can get a review of their medication.
Improving balance and strength is a huge issue for Susan Larsen of Berthold as well.
“The most important thing is you’ve got to keep doing the exercises to get the benefit of them,” she says. “I know that when I work on these exercises, I’m more balanced.”
Hearing from a pharmacist during the Stepping On program also was very helpful for Larsen. The pharmacist spoke about how taking a combination of prescription and/or over-the-counter drugs could have unintended health consequences, so older adults need to make sure their doctor is aware of all of the medications they are taking. In addition, the pharmacist talked about getting medical advice before taking vitamins and other supplements, and how some diseases, such as diabetes, could affect a person’s night vision.
However, making her home a safer place may have been the best advice for Larsen.
“The big one is that I don’t put things in my path,” she says.
For Eleanor Lindeman of Golden Valley, Stepping On provided several good tips, such as wearing a good pair of shoes, removing tripping hazards in your home and being aware of curbs, uneven sidewalks or pavement, or other obstacles when getting out of a car or walking outside.
“Just be aware of where your next footstep is going,” she says.
These women are among more than 750 older adults who have participated in 70 Stepping On workshops in North Dakota since late 2012.
This kind of educational program is vital because the consequences of falling are substantial, according to Dena Kemmet, an agent in NDSU Extension’s Mercer County office and one of about 23 Extension agents trained as Stepping On class leaders.
“They include fractures, head injuries, soft-tissue injuries, loss of mobility, loss of independent living and death,” she says. “Even when a fall does not cause injuries, many people develop a fear of falling that may limit their activities. This may result in reduced mobility and loss of physical conditioning, increasing the risk of falling, dependence on others and social isolation.”
In a survey of recent Stepping On participants three months after completing the program:
• 91 percent reported practicing techniques for standing, walking and climbing stairs, and stepping on and off curbs.
• 91 percent assessed their home for safety hazards.
• 82 percent decreased falling incidents.
• 76 percent exercise routinely.
• 51 percent used ways to learn about the side effects of medication.
“Reducing the risk of falls can increase older adults’ quality of life and save thousands of dollars in health-care and long-term care costs for North Dakotans,” notes Jane Strommen, NDSU Extension gerontology specialist.
NDSU Extension also is making sure that those taking care of older adults receive support through a national program, Powerful Tools for Caregivers (PTC). Fifteen Extension agents are trained to lead the classes.
During the six-week course, spouses, partners, adult children, other family members, neighbors and friends who are caregivers learn how to take care of themselves by reducing stress, improving their self-confidence, learning how to better communicate their feelings and balance their lives, increasing their ability to make tough decisions and finding helpful resources.
“Caregiving can be a rewarding experience, but it also can be filled with enormous physical, emotional and financial challenges,” Strommen says.
About 75 people have participated in 12 PTC workshops held in North Dakota since 2013. A survey found that among those who recently completed PTC, the program resulted in a:
• 54 percent increase in caregivers finding positive ways to cope with stress and taking time for themselves without feeling guilty.
• 53 percent increase in caregivers asking for help with caregiving tasks.
• 43 percent increase in caregivers understanding that their emotions are a normal response to caregiving.
PTC was invaluable for Cass County resident Gene Petermann, who is taking care of his wife.
“I learned I am not alone,” he says. “The class taught more than I thought was possible about this subject.”
Extension also provides older adults with education on issues such as long-term care and money management. Visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/cff for more information.