Last year, from July through September, 127 Needham residents were treated for falls at Beth Israel Deaconess Needham and Newton-Wellesley hospitals. Seventy percent of those patients were 65 or older. 

 Although the fear of falling is more prevalent among seniors, a fall can happen to anyone and can cause serious pain and disruption. A fall can also have a ripple effect, including the need for an ambulance, health care, and possibly surgery and long-term rehab.

For all of these reasons, Needham public health nurse Hanna Burnett said falls are considered a public health threat. And the numbers show falls are happening all too often.  

To help prevent the risk of a serious fall, Needham Public Health will run a class titled “A Matter of Balance” beginning Jan. 25. The class, suggested for people 60 and older, is free and will run once a week for eight weeks. Burnett said she hopes people will take advantage of the program, which aims to change people’s thinking about falls and how to prevent them. She stresses these are not exercise classes but an evidence-based course that helps replace fear with constructive tips to prevent falls. 

“What the whole program is about is figuring out what your beliefs are about falling and replacing that with what they should be,” said Burnett. “ If you’re so afraid, you’re pretty soon not going to move and you’ll start limiting your activity, your social life, everything about your life.” Cognitive restructuring, as she calls it, is supplemented by exercises to improve strength, flexibility and balance.

Rose Doherty, an 81-year-old Needham resident, took the class a couple of years ago after falling in downtown Boston. “I was running to catch the train at South Station,” she said. “I decided to figure out what I could do to keep myself safer.” 

Doherty said the class helped her think about being more mindful and reinforced her philosophy that being active is positive. It also gave her new tools to use in her home, where she now focuses on the right way to get out of a chair and tries to remember to always keep her cell phone nearby. She also has tossed the slippers she used to wear around the house and replaced them with shoes that are much safer. Doherty is an avid walker and said as a result of the course she is now “striding with purpose.”

“It’s not true that just because you are getting older, you’re going to fall more,” said Burnett. “If you’ve reached a point in your life where you have concerns, this is the course for you.” 

Doherty echoed that sentiment. “It really does work.”

“A Matter of Balance” is a free program. To register contact Hanna Burnett at (781) 455-7940 ext. 218 or at hburnett@needhamma.gov

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