balancing act: helping adults step wisely

Henry Bickel stands upright and steady as he marches in place – something he couldn’t do a year ago. That was before the White Plains resident started working with StepWISEnow, a comprehensive balance training and fall prevention program founded by licensed physical therapist Molly Olivia Roffman.

In partnership with the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services and the YWCA of White Plains & Central Westchester, StepWISEnow offers workshops and courses focused on fall prevention, posture, balance, controlled movement, improving gait, increasing stamina, and building confidence.

Henry, who was temporarily denied admission to a continuing care community after failing the physical portion of the entry exam, signed up for StepWISEnow’s Tai Chi for Arthritis course to get some exercise and work on balance conditioning. When the course ended, he approached Molly about private coaching.

He said his work with Molly has helped him feel more confident and his feet no longer drag when he walks. “I have to go back [to the care community] and take another test, but this time I know I’ll pass,” Henry said.

Balance training and fall prevention programs are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Injury Prevention Program to reduce the prevalence of falls in older adults. Each year, one out of three Americans aged 65 and older experiences a fall. And the CDC notes that one out of five falls causes a serious injury such as a broken bone or head injury. While not all falls result in an injury, a fall does increase the likelihood of subsequent falls. And falls are the number one reason for the loss of independence as we age.

The good news is that falls are preventable – and quite easily too. The Department of Injury Prevention at the New York State Department of Health explains that falls “occur in predictable patterns as a result of recognizable risk factors.” Those include reduced balance, poor vision, muscle weakness, and hazards in the home, all of which are addressed through evidence- and research-based fall education and prevention programs like StepWISEnow.
stepwisenow-web-shotv3“If you have better balance, you can do more things. You feel safer,” Gloria Kahn shared with Westchester Senior Voice. She and her husband Bob attend courses and benefit from training with StepWISEnow.

Before working with Molly, Bob’s posture and gait were so bad, Gloria took him to see a neurologist. “I was just sure the neurologist was going to confirm that he had Parkinson’s,” she said. When Bob was found to have none of the symptoms of the disease, he decided to enroll in the Tai Chi for Arthritis course. He’s also attended StepWISEnow’s A Master of Balance and Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance classes.

“After about two months of working with Molly, his whole posture changed, his walk changed,” marveled Gloria. “It was really dramatic.” As with Henry, the Kahns plan to continue to work with Molly indefinitely.

Molly would like to see people take a more proactive approach to fall prevention. She’s always happy to see adults in their 50s and even younger in her classes, as balance starts to decline in midlife. “It’s never too early to start. The knowledge that falls can be prevented and that these programs can make a difference is cause for real optimism,” she said. Maybe now is the time to take a step towards improving your own equilibrium.

StepWISEnow classes are offered at the YWCA White Plains on North Street and at Phelps Hospital, on Level C of the main building in Sleepy Hollow. Inquire about other class locations. To contact Molly at StepWISEnow, call 914.486.8125 or email her at Molly@stepwisenow.com. Also visit stepwisenow.com

Tiffany R. Jansen

Tiffany R. Jansen is a Harrison-based freelance writer and journalist. She's written for TheAtlantic.com, Saveur.com, and SELF.com, among others. She loves the Oxford comma and stroopwaffels, though not necessarily in that order.

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