A Matter of Balance... and so much more
by Linda King, A Matter of Balance Coach, Mobile, Alabama
Linda King, A Matter of Balance Coach who volunteers at the SARPC/Area Agency on Aging in Mobile, Alabama, shares her experience teaching her first Matter of Balance program with Coach Marsha Britton at the Living Well Health Center in Mobile.
"Each of you will hear something from someone in this class that will inspire, motivate or encourage you. You may not realize it now, but we will all enrich each other's life in some way." I believed those words as I spoke them to my first Matter of Balance (MOB) class, but I did not realize just how true they would turn out to be for some.
What was billed as a falls management course became so much more. We learned that attitude is a choice, and we learned how to become proactive in order to maintain our independence as long as possible. But along the way, something more happened. Folks from all walks of life bonded and their lives were transformed by this shared experience.
Of particular note were Barbara and Joan. Barbara's husband had recently passed away. As she put it, "I lost my husband, my best friend, my soul-mate." That first day of class, you could see sadness in the way she carried herself. By the end of class, she walked tall and proud! She still had moments that she described as "almost unbearable," but a fellow participant had told her about a local church support group for widowed persons, and MOB had given her new coping skills to help keep her from becoming isolated and depressed.
Joan signed up for MOB along with her husband to learn ways to deal with concerns about falling, but the class soon became, in her words, "a lifeline" to help her cope as she watched her father struggle with dementia. Unable to find a support group that met her needs, she shared her frustrations and fears about dementia with us. Her dad died midway through the course, and when she returned for the last two sessions, she told the class, "YOU have been my support group."
On the last day of class, we honored our participants with a reception celebrating the fact that ALL had earned their completion certificate with the majority having perfect attendance! People who had only known each other for a month acted like friends who had known each other for years - hugging each other, making plans to get together to exercise, to eat out, to socialize at senior centers - all vowing to stay in touch!
When asked why I volunteer to coach MOB for the Area Agency on Aging, I tell people that I believe my grandmother's positive attitude and healthy lifestyle choices helped her live 95 years relatively independently in her own home. In fact, she asked for (and received) a weed eater for her 90th birthday! On the other hand, my mother died at age 74 from medical problems due to a lifetime of heavy smoking further complicated by clinical depression. How is it that my grandmother had endured whereas my mother had succumbed? They had the same genetic makeup and the same socio-economic background. So what was different? I think the answer has to do with attitude and with coping strategies.
To me, that's what A Matter of Balance is all about - changing attitudes and mindsets, instilling confidence and giving folks tools and strategies to incorporate into their daily routine. We coaches are their cheerleaders. We hope they leave understanding that while we must expect and acknowledge certain limitations as we age, there are myths about aging that we do not have to accept. We hope they believe that "it's never too late" and they recognize that lifestyle change is a process -- a process of mini goals they can achieve through commitment, determination, and practice; and while practice does not make perfect, practice does make habit.
A Matter of Balance is an award-winning program designed to manage falls and increase activity levels. The program consists of eight 2-hour sessions. Participants learn to set realistic goals to increase activity, change their environment to reduce fall risk factors, and learn simple exercises to increase strength and balance.