Falls prevention advocate builds awareness -- and strength.

Strengthening body and building awareness make falls prevention a life-changing pursuit


Kathryn Bowen’s life gives her lots of reasons to stay on her toes – but caring for her granddaughter is the biggest one.  “Her toys are everywhere,” Kathryn admits with a wry chuckle.  “I really have to work to keep them picked up!”


Like many older adults, Bowen’s busy family schedule is a big motivator for taking care of herself.  A few years ago, she took an unusual step to maintain her independence.  Bowen joined her sister at a Stepping On class to learn how to avoid falls – even though she didn’t have a history of falls or balance problems.  “It made me so aware,” she recalls.  “I learned so many simple ways to take better care of both my body and myself.”


As a veteran community activist, Bowen quickly realized the impact falls prevention could have on older adults.  She became a Stepping On peer leader – an experience that gave her tools she uses daily.  Now Bowen advocates for falls injury prevention with groups like United Way of Dane County, Safe Communities of Madison and Dane County and Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging.


“My kids think I’ll keep going forever.  But I have to focus on what I need to do to get enough rest and keep up my physical strength,” she observes.  “As older adults, we don’t want to admit our deficits, even to ourselves.  We say, ‘I shouldn’t have left that laundry basket there,’ not ‘I can’t see things as well as I used to.’”


Bowen echoes an obstacle familiar to falls injury prevention experts. “People’s priority is to stay independent, and unfortunately that can lead them to avoid talking about falls with their doctor,” says Shannon Myers, Stepping On faculty trainer for Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging, a statewide clearinghouse for community-base health promotion programs.  “The stigma of falling is very real.  It scares people on 2 fronts: they are afraid of getting hurt, and they are afraid of anyone knowing.” Yet research shows falls can be prevented, says Myers.  The Stepping On falls prevention program has been proven to reduce falls for participants by 30 percent.


Stepping On classes meet once a week for 7 weeks to address many factors that cause or contribute to a fall. Visiting experts discuss the role medication, vision and footwear play in falls risk.  A physical therapist also instructs the class on balance and strength exercises to help them walk confidently. Then participants take their new skills home to test in their daily lives. “It’s definitely not a one size fits all situation for anyone,”  says Myers. "That’s one reason the group setting works so well.  You hear what others are trying, you share your own results.  It inspires people to keep going.” 


Kathryn agrees, flashing her warmest smile.  “Once people get their creative problem-solving skills going, they take control back from their fear of falling.  It’s really wonderful to see.”


Learn more about Stepping On or to find a workshop near you.