November 14, 2012

Therapy program focuses on balance, reducing falls


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Florence Kaufman experienced a couple of falls lately that weakened her confidence in getting around and performing routine daily activities.

Kaufman, affectionately known as “Flo” by her friends and loved ones, recently tripped over a toolbox and also tripped while climbing her stairway at home.

Though she was not seriously injured from either fall, it was a reminder that balance becomes a growing area of concern as people age.

“I never really realized what it takes to have balance,” said Kaufman, 64, who recently completed a physical-therapy program at One Step Ahead that focused on fall prevention. “The class has really taught me to be more conscious of my surroundings.”

The class, hosted by physical therapist Mariana Bartonicek, is geared toward senior citizens and anyone who may have balance problems because of a physical or medical condition.

“If we can do something to help prevent falls, we can also promote independence,” said Bartonicek, who has a doctorate in physical therapy from Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. “I worked a lot with older adults while in graduate school, and I fell in love with them.”

The program, which is held one hour per week over an eight-week period, concentrates on activities that emphasize the need to maintain balance.

“We try to make it fun,” Bartonicek said of the group activities. “We work on both balance and strength with the different kinds of activities we do.”

Although designed to be fun for participants, the activities do focus on serious requirements to help maintain balance.

“One of the simple things we did was walk on a pillow, the regular kind you would use on a bed,” said Kaufman, who lives in Plattsburgh. “It sounds easy, but it’s not. It kind of makes you wobble, and that forces you to concentrate.”

Balance is based on three separate senses: vision, the vestibular system in the ears that controls balance, and information sent from the feet to the brain during movement.

“As we get older, things happen that affect those things that control balance,” Bartonicek said. “Our vision gets worse; the mechanisms in our ears (that control balance) are not as fine-tuned; our ankles are weaker and stiffer.”

Strength is an important component of balance, and much of the course focuses on strengthening the ankles.

Bartonicek initially works one-on-one with a potential client to determine if a balance program will benefit the person.

“We use standardized tests to see how a person’s balance is,” she explained. “With the results (from those tests), we can develop a program tailored toward whatever that person needs to work on.”

She also wants to strengthen a participant’s confidence.

“The No. 1 risk for falls is a lack of confidence,” she explained. “When a person tenses up (from a lack of confidence), the risk is more likely for a fall.”

Kaufman feels her confidence has increased tremendously since taking the course.

“I try to think ahead and adjust to certain things,” she said. “When I go to somebody’s house, I am more conscious of things like throw rugs and steps than I was before. Just in terms of being careful, I’m much more confident.”

Bartonicek also provides participants with activities they can continue to use once they complete the course. She has had some people sign up for a second round.

“I have three basic rules for class: be safe, stand up straight, and have fun.”

Health insurance does not cover the program at this time, but Bartonicek said she is planning on writing some grants to seek funding for the program.

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For more information on the balance-therapy program offered by Mariana Bartonicek, contact One Step Ahead Physical Therapy at 561-2225 or email info@oneste