Balancing act

Sitting upon an inflatable plastic pillow on her chair, 76-year-old Lyn Joyce picked up a 4-pound medicine ball and lifted it across her body as if she were swinging a golf club.

"You really have to fight for your balance," the La Crescenta resident said as she lifted the medicine ball and moved it smoothly from one side to another. "I've noticed a 50% improvement in my balance since I've been in the class."

She and a dozen participants attended a recent "Get Up and Go" senior wellness program at Verdugo Hills Hospital taught by physical therapist Cynthia Cancelosi in hopes of rebuilding their strength and improving their walking, balance and coordination.

Five years ago, Joyce had a brain tumor and suffered from peripheral neuropathy, which impaired her balance. She had received one-on-one balance therapy at the hospital. For the past year, she has continued to improve her strength and balance by taking the twice-weekly exercise class.

Ranging in age from 73 to 87, the participants demonstrated how hard they will work to maintain their independence and to battle their various balance and strength-robbing ailments. Their ailments included multiple sclerosis, vertigo, hip and knee replacements and inner-ear problems.

The exercise classes are just one part of the hospital's Balanced Life program that treats patients who are at a high risk of falling. The program offers customized physical therapy and in-home risk assessments. The program also offers specialized treatment for patients who suffer from dizziness or disequilibrium.

"More than 1,000 seniors have participated in the Balanced Life Program," said Laura Knowles, the director of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Verdugo Hills Hospital.

Knowles was inspired to start a seniors balance program when a rehabilitation patient said, "You should help people before they fall."

In 2007, the program began addressing the needs of patients who suffer from dizziness and disequilibrium after receiving funding from UniHealth Foundation, the Green Foundation, Burbank Healthcare Foundation and Glendale Community Foundation.

Each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Falls can lead to moderate to severe injuries including hip fractures and head traumas. Most fractures among older adults are caused by falls.

"Regular exercise that increases leg strength and balance is important in fall prevention," said Cancelosi, who had the participants execute leg lifts while wearing ankle weights. "Also, the use of weights stimulates the bones to grow, which is very important in the treatment of osteoporosis."

She noted physical activity is linked to brain activity as well.

"And you're never too old to start exercising as long as you have a good teacher," said Cancelosi, who has been a physical therapist for 12 years.

La Cañada Flintridge resident Fred Morrow, 85, recognized the brain strengthening possibilities of exercise. So he and his wife, Beverly, joined the class three months ago.

Mary Irwin, a feisty and gregarious 73-year-old from La Cañada Flintridge, is one of the original members of the class. She has been coming for four years, noting that she was looking simply for a seniors exercise class. "It's a terrific workout," she said.

In addition to the physical and mental benefits, the participants socialize, encouraging each other.

"We know each other so well," said Marilyn Bungartz, 80, of La Cañada Flintridge, who has multiple sclerosis. She requires the assistance of a walker, but that doesn't slow her down in the exercise class.



What: The Get Up and Go program

When: 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays

Where: Verdugo Hills Hospital, Fourth floor Council Room A, 1812 Verdugo Blvd., Glendale

Cost: $12.

Contact: (818) 952-2294

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