Join a strength and balance class

You may think it won’t happen to you, but the risk of falling increases as you get older. One in three 65-year-olds will fall in any given year and by the age of 80 that increases to one in two.

The long-term risks of falling can be serious: hospitalisation or even death.

Some of the risk factors for falling are hard to control – things like deteriorating eyesight and hearing, and the effect of some medications and of conditions like arthritis, strokes and Parkinson’s.

But there are some risk factors you can modify, in particular your strength and balance. And Age Concern’s fall-prevention programme, Steady As You Go, is a proven way of improving both. 

An evaluation of the programme carried out by Otago University in 2009 found that participants were stronger and less likely to fall after attending classes for ten weeks. Another study in 2014 found the benefits were even greater after attending classes for a year.

They’re also lots of fun, as Age Concern Health Promotion Advisor Gemma Wong found when she attended a class at the Wanganui RSA during a recent training course for Steady As You Go facilitators.

 “It was really nice seeing how much participants enjoy the classes, and how inclusive they are.”

Gemma is about to start facilitating four ten-week Steady As You Go courses in the Wellington area, including one based at the Kokiri Marae in Porirua and another being organised through the Hutt Multicultural Council.

“We’re trying to make sure our services are available to a diverse range of older people. It’s about trying to be equitable in our service provision.”

Hutt City Council is also helping her set up a course in Lower Hutt.

Originally developed by Age Concern in Dunedin, Steady As You Go is now available in a number of centres around New Zealand and has thousands of participants. It differs from other community-based falls programmes because, after the first 10 weeks, the paid instructor is replaced by volunteer peer leaders. This helps keep the cost down – entry is by a gold coin donation.

This is used to pay for venue hire, and any money left over can be used for whatever the group chooses. “”One group used their money to buy pyjamas for the local children’s hospital.”

For Gemma, one important aspect of the Steady As You Go programme is that participants are tested when they first start the classes and again after ten weeks. “It’s a helpful way of keeping people engaged because they are able to see their progress in numbers.”