Did you know that falls are the number one cause of accidental death in adults over 65 years of age? Additionally, more than half the active people over 65 who fall and break a hip never return to their previous level of activity.     Are you at risk of falling? If you don’t know the answer to that question, ask yourself these three questions. Have you fallen in the past year? Are you afraid that you might fall? Do you frequently need to use your arms to rise from chairs? Answering yes to any of these questions indicates that you may be at risk for falling.     About three years ago, health care professionals and others interested in the quality of life for seniors, met to focus efforts on fall prevention. It is to these meetings that Donna Whitcomb, Program Director for Augustana Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) traces the birth of the program established in McLeod, Meeker, Kandiyohi and Renville Counties referred to as Bone Builders.
The Augustana RSVP Osteoporosis Exercise Program (Bone Builders) relies on weight training to protect against fractures caused by osteoporosis by increasing muscular strength and bone density. Medical studies indicate that weight training twice a week for a year gains an average one percent bone density in women whose peers lost two to two and a half percent during the same time frame. Bone Builders prevents or reverses osteoporosis, improves balance, enhances energy and well-being, increases socialization and provides educational information to participants and their families.     Whitcomb said she already knew something about Bone Builders because RSVP had access to the copyrighted strength training program, but she hadn’t paid much attention to it.     “We as a group were trying to find a (fall) prevention program,” Whitcomb said. A program designed to assess falls risk called Stand Up and be Strong was being promoted by the American Physical Therapy Association in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Human Services.     “We decided to supplement with something of more of an enhanced long-term program,” Whitcomb said. “We looked at partnering with Hutchinson Area Health physical therapists. We added a physical therapy component to the actual Bone Builders class which allowed us to bring a physical therapist in to do an assessment before starting the class and again six months later to look for improvement.”     During those six months, the participant makes every effort to attend the class twice a week.     Bone Builders opened eight sites in McLeod County the first year expanding to Meeker and Renville Counties the second year. Kate Selseth of the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging (MnRAAA) has been instrumental in obtaining funding for Bone Builders. A grant from Prime West provides funding for the program in McLeod, Meeker and Renville Counties.     “As Bone Builders literally exploded, Kandiyohi County wanted sites too,” Whitcomb said.  Sherrie Nordmeyer of the Willmar Community Senior Services Network has, according to Selseth, been creative in talking to people about funding in Kandiyohi County where Prime West does not operate. Bone Builders sessions take place regularly at the Willmar Community Auditorium and are open to the public.     A total of 25 groups currently operate in the four counties with more in various stages of planning. The first step is to find a donated site which becomes an RSVP station. RSVP trains volunteer trainers and organizers find ways to pay for the weights (half-pound increments up to 10 pounds). The Prime West grant, now in its second year, pays for 10 sets per site.     Because the program involves weight bearing exercise, a medical release is required. RSVP provides information about the program as well as release forms to the clinics in the area. Usually it takes less than 24 hours to get the release.     “The really neat thing is that we’ve started getting calls from doctors asking how they can go about referring a patient to Bone Builders,” Whitcomb said.     Whitcomb said she is amazed to find the response to the program most often numbering 15 to 30 participants at a site instead of the 10 they expected. Before the partnership with physical therapists participants usually fell in the 55 to 70 year age range. Whitcomb estimates that age range has increased about 15 years largely due to the fact many donated sites are located in senior living complexes making it easier for older seniors to participate. As of December, 2009, 38 participants in the four-county area were 90 years old or older.     Whitcomb has also been hearing some pretty encouraging success stories. One of her favorites is from a lady who had been doing Bone Builders for a while. She bent over to pick a piece of gift wrap off the floor when she realized it had been years since she had been able to do that. She screamed for her husband to come see what she had done.     Jan Lux is the activities director at Prairie View Senior Living in Hector, Renville County, Minnesota. She became a trained Bone Builders leader and the program was implemented at Prairie View in March, 2009. Lux leads 45-minute sessions beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. Attendance at the sessions ranges from eight to 12 ladies ranging in age from 75 to 96.            “I am impressed,” Lux said. “I am seeing a lot of balance improvement.”     Prairie View residents were enthusiastic about their reasons for continuing in the program.     Doris Schultz, 85, said it gives her the chance to use unused parts. “I feel bad if I miss one (class).”     Doris Dahlgren, also 85, is using Bone Builders in addition to riding a stationary bicycle for rehabilitation after knee surgery.     Bertha Cruse, 86, likes it because it gets her out of her room and she gets exercise.     “We just sit still too much,” said Lyla Lidberg, 88.     “I just make sure we have fun,” Lux added. “To me laughter is one of the best exercises you can have.”     Organizations interested in hosting a site or individuals wanting to learn more about the program are urged to contact Donna Whitcomb at 1-800-669-6714.