Fall prevention workshops teach balance and other techniques to prevent injuries

Stepping On, a seven-week fall-prevention workshop, helps groups of senior Iowa City residents be able to walk confidently and safely in their homes.


Katina Zentz

Physical Therapist Danielle Bodensteiner explains the procedure of how to protect yourself in the case of a fall during Stepping on, a 7-week fall prevention class at the Iowa River Landing on Thursday, February 28, 2019. The class learned the ways in which to help themselves up during an unexpected fall and how to find help. (Katina Zentz/The Daily Iowan)

Josie Fischels, News Reporter

Once a week, Jim Vance and his wife get in their car and drive to the Iowa River Landing for a two-hour-long workshop focused on one thing — how not to fall.

Stepping On is a fall-prevention workshop provided by the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics to help teach individuals 65 and older learn techniques such as balance and strength training. Instructor and injury-prevention coordinator Kathleen Lee said the program was developed in Australia and brought to the United States by a member of the Wisconsin Institute of Healthy Aging. 

“It’s been shown in multiple randomized controlled studies to reduce falls between 30 and 40 percent, a significant amount,” she said.

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The program is seven weeks long and offered six times a year between UIHC and the Visiting Nurse Association, providing participants such as Vance and his wife with information and exercise training to keep themselves safe while at home.

Vance, who suffered a stroke in 2012 that largely affected the right side of his body, said he gets a double-dose of strength training thanks to the workshops. He visits St. Luke’s Hospital for physical therapy on the same days he attends Stepping On, which has helped him regain some of his strength, he said.

“If I carry this information home and keeping doing it, it’s going to help. It depends on me,” he said.

A former dental technician at the University of Iowa and a pet lover, Vance said the things he learns in the workshops allow him to get on the floor and play with his dog, Zach, at home without worrying about how to get up again.

The sessions are designed to be interactive rather than lecture-based. Over the seven weeks, participants are visited by a physical therapist, vision therapist, pharmacist for fall prevention, and a community safety specialist who demonstrates the best ways to recover.

“He actually shows people how to fall, which is always entertaining,” Lee said.

An additional “booster session” is offered three months after the workshop ends to check in with former participants, Lee said. Topics covered during the sessions include balance and strength training, the role vision plays in keeping balance, and how to eliminate fall hazards in the home.

The workshops are available at $30 per person and can have up to 15-30 participants. Lee said the money covers the cost of an exercise manual, handouts, snacks, and rental of weights used during the sessions.

Judy Swafford, a co-leader of the workshop, said exercises taught in the workshops are often able to be modified to fit the needs of individuals with mobility issues. This way, she said, participants can get the most out of sessions despite differing ranges of abilities.

“Certainly we’re preventing falls, but we’re also helping people have that list of strategies,” she said.

In the future, the program hopes to expand to reach rural areas, Swafford said. For now, the program continues to educate the elderly and keep them safe in their homes and communities.

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