Falls and fractures in people aged 65 and over account for over 4 million hospital bed days each year in England according to the charity Age UK. Falls damage confidence and increase isolation and around 1 in 10 older people who fall, feel unable to leave their home in case they fall again. However exercise programmes have been shown to reduce falls by as much as 54%.
Hampshire County Council’s Older People’s Well-Being Team and Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust teamed up a year ago with the aim of preventing falls and keeping older people independent for as long as possible, by organising “Steady and Strong” community exercise classes around the county. One year on, more than 400 people attend a Steady and Strong class every week. The classes are held in a variety of community venues such as village halls, community centres, leisure centres and sheltered housing schemes.
There are social as well as physical benefits to going along to a class and meeting other people regularly. Comments from people who attend the Steady and Strong classes in Havant included “I get to meet with people my own age and with similar fitness abilities.” “Supervised exercise that will improve my general health is what I am after.”
Similarly, the class held in Petersfield has helped one of its attendees both in confidence and in physical strength, “Having had a fall and living on my own, I was very concerned about going into town and envisioned a life of television and gazing at the four walls. I was fortunate in being able to join a Steady and Strong class and these thoughts have disappeared and I have the confidence to know that I can stay active. I can get up easily from a chair and know how to get up from the floor if I do have a fall. I have no problems washing my back in the shower. My confidence, balance and awareness have improved tremendously and I am happy to toddle around town and the shops as now I pick up my feet and don’t slouch. I have even begun to play bowls as I can bend down with confidence, even if I walk slowly up the green…”
A member of the Alton class who suffered a serious spinal injury some years ago has also found the classes beneficial. “The class started very gently at first, gradually building up strength and stamina. This has improved my ability to move and walk better, to sit and stand and most of all to get up from a fall properly – something which has been of benefit to me on three occasions! My balance has improved and I can now shower and dry without help. This may seem a trivial thing, but for me it is a huge achievement. I have met some lovely people in the group and consider them friends.”
At the start of the project there were no classes on offer in four districts within Hampshire, but as a result of development work by the council’s Older People’s Wellbeing team, many new classes have started and 15 new instructors have been trained in Hampshire to run falls prevention classes. There are now over 40 classes running across the county with plans to start up more during the next year.
Cllr Liz Fairhurst, Hampshire County Council’s Executive Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health said “Steady and Strong classes have proved very effective in helping people to regain and maintain their confidence; this is so vital as older people who are not physically active are less able to do every-day tasks and so are more likely to need support and care. Exercise is one of the most important factors in preventing a fall. This is just one of the schemes run by the Older People’s Wellbeing Team in Hampshire aimed at helping people to stay independent, reduce isolation and loneliness and increase confidence.”
Anyone interested in Steady and Strong classes can ask their GP or health professional about them or check the list of classes available at www.hants.gov.uk/betterbalance. Alternatively, call Hampshire’s Falls Prevention and Physical Activity Co-ordinator Sophie Jevons on 01962 846605. Please make contact with the class instructor before attending a Steady & Strong session for the first time.