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Can you stand on one leg?

Helping seniors improve balance and strength

Caroline Rusten of Cayuga Heights begins each day standing on one leg to improve her balance. Her decades of study with the Ithaca Ballet Center have given her an acute awareness of her body’s position, but in recent years her balance was no longer reliable.

When stepping up to a curb, she steadied herself by holding on to a car or a tree. Uneven pavements posed a risk for falling. After three months of physical therapy at Cayuga Medical Center to improve her muscle strength, power, coordination, and balance, she took several 10-week balance exercise classes at Island Health & Fitness in Community Corners.

“I worked on shifting my weight while moving and regain-ing strength, so I could prevent a fall and maintain my balance when walking on an uneven surface,” she says.

Early detection and awareness of fall risk are part of the Stay Steady Tompkins County Fall Risk Screening program. A community partnership involving Cayuga Medical Center, Cayuga Area Physicians, Ithaca College, Tompkins County Office for the Aging, the Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County and, and about 10 other local agencies developed the effort. The free screenings are offered at several Tompkins County locations to evaluate a person’s risk of falling, teach fall prevention, and recommend local resources for individual therapy or group classes. Cayuga Medical Center therapists evaluate participants to determine a person’s fall risk.

During a recent screening at Lifelong in Ithaca, Marge Wheelock was happy to see she was making progress after having several physical therapy sessions and attending balance classes.

“The sessions and classes have improved my balance, taught me how to avoid falls, and what to do if I fall,” Marge says.

Everyone faces some risk of falling, but the risk increases for those 65 and older, says Anne Reilley, PT, DPT, MS, GCS. She teaches balance exercise classes at Cayuga Medical Center’s Brentwood Drive physical therapy office and Island Health & Fitness at Community Corners.

“Activities are planned for each class to improve muscle strength, power, agility, and use of sensory systems to improve balance recovery skills needed to prevent a fall,” Anne says. At her recent hour-long class at Island Health & Fitness, she led about 14 participants in power, agility, strength, and balance exercises that are closely supervised to prevent falls. Participants also do balancing tasks while simultaneously thinking, talk-ing, or using their arms to perform exercises and play games. “Many falls happen when we are distracted, doing multiple things at the same time, or cognitively impaired,” Anne says.

Cayuga Medical Center therapists work with patients who have gait or balance disorders, vertigo, or a history of falls before starting a balance or strength exercise class. Therapy services are offered by Cayuga Medical Center at three locations: Brentwood Drive, Cayuga Wellness Center, and Cortland.

For more information on the Balance Exercise Classes offered at Island Health & Fitness, call (607) 319-0149 and to get a schedule of Stay Steady Fall Risk Screenings or to schedule a physical therapy assessment, call (607) 274-4159.

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