Today was our first day at a program sponsored by The Area Agency on Aging. There will be eight weeks of “instructions and exercises”, held, appropriately, at the Hospice Center of the local hospital. It is a government sponsored program, with funding through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, so we spent the first hour filling out forms promising not to sue anyone if we fall—which of course we are not allowed to—and then hearing the stories of the 17 participants on why they want to take the course.

Not too surprising, people who were there had fallen and wanted to learn how not to fall again or, at least, to fall properly. Some had blacked out, one lady busted her nose, others hurt their shoulders and arms, some just had gotten black and blue but, almost without exception, all had fallen. I didn’t admit that I had because it was a freak accident—I tripped over a curb in the dark and that would not have counted. Mine would have been a poor story, but Joice made up for it by telling how she fell in Ecuador and now has her knee wired together. No one could top that fall, although one woman who has been falling for years, came close.

We are allowed to keep the sheet called “Client rights & Responsibilities of Older Americans Act Programs,” printed on July 2, 2007. There are ten points about our rights—we are informed about this and that and need to be responsible for that and this. The bottom line is what we sign: “I hold harmless this Area Agency on Aging program, its parent organization, funders, and the sponsoring state agencies for any liability arising out of the services provided in accordance with program guidelines.” I wonder how long it took a bureaucrat to write that. In other words, “Don’t try to sue us in the event you fall.”

We were also asked to fill out a “Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (Par-Q and you),” meant to reveal any heart condition, bone or joint problem, blood pressure disorder, and so on. The back of the sheet gave us of information on the “Area Agency Aging of the Heart of Texas” and the help they could provide for us. There is, for example, a “Stress-busting program for family caregivers,” another on “Diabetes self-management,” and yet another on “Chronic disease self-management.” The government of Texas has something for everyone, even if they don’t fall. Their by-line is “A matter of balance” and it is an “award-winning program” designed for anyone 60 years or older “who is mobile and cognitively aware.” In other words, you have to know why you are there and can stand up and sit down without help.

Our facilitators are Sue and Fred, with some input from Jaylie, who had to leave early to take part in another course. Fred is big, really obese, has had a heart attack and stroke and his wife uses a walker and can’t see out of “the left side.” Fred has fallen numerous times, so he is an ideal teacher. He loves to tell stories and today told us how to harness our dog so that it wouldn’t go too fast and force us to fall.

Sue is not as big, but trips often and has fallen. However, she is a nurse and has taken courses on CPR and emergency stuff, so she is an ideal person to have around if we fall. She is the scribe and writes things on bit sheets of butcher paper that flip over—the kind used in workshops before PowerPoint. Sue engages the audience and gets them talking about falling and how they feel about it. Most everyone didn’t feel too good about their falls.

We are given a handout (1.2, so there must be a lot of them coming) in which we were to grade ourselves as agreeing or disagreeing with 12 statements. All statements are negative, so it seems that we should disagree with them, although the last one (“Falling is humiliating”) prompted a lot of discussion. Fred tells us that we should turn it into a “positive statement.”

I suggested that if we fall we get up (as best we can) and exclaim “Did you see that—I just had a terrific fall—probably at least a number 9.” Fred isn’t sure about that and others don’t want to be that positive. So, despite the help of Fred and Sue, survey item number 8 may need to be restated. Something like: “Have a great fall—it is natural in life—athletes do it all the time.”

We are also asked to chart our attitudes about falling: How does it really make us feel? It reminded me of a counselling session on moods and emotional states: how we should accept our inner person who doesn’t want to fall, but who enables us to make the best of it and feel good when it happens.

I disagreed with all the attitude mood statements: I don’t mind walking when it is slippery outside, and I am generally not nervous when I walk. Of course, if I were really honest and if Sue pried more I would admit that I don’t like the highest rung on a stepladder. Hopefully, Fred could help me convert that feeling into something positive, like “What a wonderful view of the floor I get from up here!”

We ended early today and were given our homework, handout 2.1, “Evaluating thoughts about falling.” This will be our opportunity to examine our innermost fears of falling and outline some positive behavior to overcome them.

Unfortunately, we won’t be at the session next week, although I will try to do the homework. I don’t want to fall behind—there are 7 more weeks to go. If we go for 6 weeks, we will get a certificate to hang on the wall—but not so high that I will need a step ladder.

Waco Providence Hospital Hospice Center
May 3, 2017