Did you know that the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging is the U.S. license holder for the Stepping On falls prevention program? WIHA has trained hundreds of leaders in many states enabling them to bring Stepping On to communities all across the country. As in Wisconsin, happy participants often share their stories. Here’s a letter from 85-year-old Gwen Krieser of Garland, Nebraska:
To the Stepping On staff at the Seward Civic Center:
One day in the Pak ‘n’Save store, I shared with [a friend] about how I had been falling. She said she took a workshop that could help me too, and soon sent your [Stepping On] brochure to me. That was the first step toward Stepping On.
You all had an influence on me. I have been saying I am old, but never made up my mind to deal with it. [Since taking the workshop], I have looked my house over to see what I could do to make it safer, never mind plainer. I took off slipcovers because they slip, and removed the pleated mattress bed skirt. Now you can see the mattress, but at least I won’t slip on the cover as I get into bed.
I also got rid of two throw rugs I tripped on by the sink and at the door. Dirt now comes in off of my grandson and son-in-law’s boots, if for a short visit they don’t have time to unlace them in the garage, but that is better than my falling over those rugs. I also pushed the footstool to the living room wall so the center of the room is clear. At night I leave a little lamp on in the kitchen so I can see my way to the bathroom. And in the garage, I picked up a coil that has been lying there forever right under my feet.
I make use of my family whenever they come to change bulbs and get down things and put things back up in the top cupboards or closet. My daughter recently even took down the elaborate flower arrangement I had strained to put on my screen door (an old farmhouse door my grandson put chicken wire on so I could have seasonal decorations) and put up two simple top to bottom strands of flowers with one string of lights. I used to decorate for four seasons, but will from here on, only for summer and Christmas with help.
I fell again after taking the workshop, but I had some tools from the class to deal with it. First, I felt myself to see if anything hurt, then remembered my class note to “bring up the good leg first” to crawl to my chair and pull myself up. Then I wondered why I fell, there was nothing in my way. The only reason I can think of for falling is my footwear: I was wearing my new pair of Birkenstocks which maybe – one or both – didn’t turn when I did. I have now put them away along with two older pairs. Then I said to myself, keep a wide stance for balance and walked barefoot to bed. Now when I go out to walk over uneven ground to turn the hose on for the birds, I walk with feet apart so one dip in the ground won’t topple me.
I also try the exercises, though I laugh at the pages in my Stepping On booklet that say “Too easy?” and “Still too easy?” as I have trouble with the first page. But I do them, though will never be able to cross my arms and rise to a standing position, nor walk with my heels to my toes. And the side-hip one makes my right knee pop. But you all helped by saying if you can’t do that, just put one foot ahead but near the other one. I did notice I would try harder at the exercises in your class than I do at home.
I go to my clinic doctor every six weeks for a Warfarin check and to monitor my heart which has always been my main problem. I have never been strong and am often dizzy, but do not faint like I used to. My mother and aunt said early on that I had my grandmother’s heart. Like she put little pills under her tongue, I take 100 MG of Metoprolol a day. She died peacefully at home, just closed her eyes for the last time when mother was sitting by her, when she was 80 years old.
That is the main reason I have been holding off about the Lifeline. On the day the Lifeline presenter came for one of your sessions, I was still not ready. I felt I would rather die like she did than spend a final sad year in a nursing home like mother did. Yet, as my family says, do I want to break something in a fall and exacerbate it by lying there to the point I do have to go to a home? If the choice is choosing between the Lifeline hanging around your neck because you’re so old and about to die, or a long helpless stay in a nursing home, I think: the Lifeline it is.
My family has also been telling me to get a cane. I saw one on your table and thought about it but just like the Lifeline, said to myself I’ll get one sometime. But my son-in law said the time is now and took me to Lincoln to pick one out. I chose one that has a base (steady, but not too wide to trip over) so it will stand up. My son-in-law said if a cane doesn’t have a base, it will fall over by your chair and you will fall out and break a hip reaching for it.
I know I’m lucky in my family. But you have all helped me in many ways too. Your presentations have embedded helpful advice in my head. Your welcoming friendliness and encouragement to each of us made the lessons enjoyable rather than so challenging we would become discouraged.
I regret missing two of the sessions, but am glad I was able to come to the others. I am definitely better off having taken your class. I am more aware of what I have to deal with and how I can deal with it because of your thorough approach to finding ways to keep elders upright in their final stage of life.