On Balance: An Interview with Balance and Falls Expert Molly RoffmanJun 29, 2020 11:21AM ● By Connie Zuckerman
StepWISEnow class in Briarcliff Manor
Molly Roffman—a New York State-licensed physical therapist specializing in fall prevention and balance training—is founder and director of StepWISEnow Balance Fitness, in Briarcliff Manor. She was inspired to develop StepWISEnow by her experience rehabilitating patients who sustained fractures and other fall-related injuries. Recently we sat down to discuss her work. Here are the highlights. (See the full interview here.)
What is StepWISEnow?
StepWISEnow Balance Fitness is grounded in the knowledge that falls are preventable. As the New York State Department of Health states, “Falls are not accidents! They are not random, uncontrollable acts of fate, but occur in predictable patterns, with recognizable risk factors and among identifiable populations.” StepWISEnow combines evidence-based fall-prevention programs such as Tai Chi for Arthritis & Fall Prevention, and A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns about Falls, with balance-fitness classes such as Line Dance and Balance Basics, and balance-component classes such as Core Connect and Seated Stretch & Strength, which focus primarily on strength and flexibility.
Who is the ideal participant?
Anyone over the age of 55. There are often subtle changes in our balance beginning in our mid-to-late 50s, and it’s vitally important to be proactive about balance fitness. The majority of our participants are women, so we’d like to encourage more men to take balance fitness seriously, since they are more likely to die from a fall. Men need to understand their risk and take preventative action. We also provide a safe, inclusive, welcoming place for people with movement challenges, such as Parkinson’s disease, to participate with confidence and security.
Do you offer online classes?
In response to Covid-19, we have moved all our classes online. I can’t wait to reopen the studio when the time comes—it provides a great sense of community to our members—but we’ll definitely be keeping our online programs going forward.
What should older adults know about falls?
That most of them are preventable—they are not a natural consequence of aging. It’s also important not to minimize the warning signs of a trip or loss of balance and discount it as unlikely to happen again. The first fall is the greatest predictor that another fall is likely.
A fall is usually the result of multiple risk factors coming together. Risk factors can be divided into three broad categories: behavioral (rushing); environmental (slippery surfaces); and physiological (leg weakness). Fall prevention involves some elements of detective work. We must go back to the “scene of the crime” to identify all the circumstances that contributed to the fall so we know how to prepare and what to do differently moving forward.
What are the typical causes of balance problems in older adults?
A common cause is inactivity, which leads to weakness, stiffness, poor posture and loss of energy. Time spent watching screens—TVs, computers or cell phones—adds up. Adopting the 4 Cs can help: commitment to yourself to act, consistency of practice, challenging yourself each day, and confidence that you can improve and succeed. Being proactive is the key to fall prevention, and adopting the 4 Cs will help make a daily balance practice part of your lifestyle and routine.
A second, less well-recognized cause of falls is multiple medications. According to the CDC, simply being on four or more medications puts one at increased risk for a fall. It’s important that older adults have regular medication reviews with their primary physician to determine if they are on the right medications at the right dosages.
How can you work on balance at home?
There are many simple balance exercises you can do at the kitchen counter. These can be a combination of strengthening and stretching along with standing and dynamic balance activities. There are also strengthening, stretching and postural exercises you can do while seated until you’re ready to progress to standing. It’s important to begin a balance practice that is well within your comfort zone before beginning to gradually progress. We offer a variety of online classes at beginner and intermediate levels and seated and standing levels as well.
How can you recover from a serious fall?
A fall can be a traumatic experience and be accompanied by the fear of falling again. Our eight-session, evidence-based program, A Matter of Balance: Managing Concern about Falls, combines problem solving, strategy building and exercise to help participants set realistic goals for increasing activity, create a personalized fall-prevention strategy, and learn simple exercises to increase strength and balance. We’re hoping to develop an online version of the program soon.
Any final words of wisdom?
The good news is that we can get stronger and improve our
balance at any age. Willingness to identify our risk factors, to commit to a
daily balance practice, and to modify our lifestyle if needed are elements of
success. It may feel like a tall order, but it’s the key to maintaining our
independence. We’re more powerful than we know, and we can use this power to
take control of how we age.
Location: StepWISEnow, 325 S. Highland Ave., Ste. 109, Briarcliff Manor, NY. For more info, call 914.292.0602 or visit StepWISEnow.com.
Connie Zuckerman is co-founder of the website agebuzz, where she published the original interview from which this article was excerpted. Visit agebuzz.com to sign up for its free weekly newsletter on all aspects of aging.