Balancing Act
Wed, 07/17/2013
Staff Writer
No more fall guys: A Tai Chi class at Commack assisted living facility. Gurwin Jewish
No more fall guys: A Tai Chi class at Commack assisted living facility. Gurwin Jewish

On balance, the seniors taking a new Tai Chi class at Gurwin Jewish – Fay J. Lindner Residences, an assisted living facility in Commack, L.I., couldn’t be happier.

Those 65 and older in Huntington Town, L.I., reportedly have among the highest rates of fall-related hospitalizations in the state; a free community-wide program of modified Tai Chi is designed to change that.

Offered for the past year at Gurwin, the 12-week, one-hour class is presented Tuesdays and Thursdays for those 65 and older and is designed to prevent falls through improved balance, strength and stability.

Ruth Banaszek, 70, of Dix Hills, L.I., was one of three women and two men in the class last Thursday. She said she took the course earlier in the year and comes back once a week for a refresher class.

“I caught myself from falling recently,” she said. “I’d had a couple of falls in the past, and these exercises help my balance and strengthen my center core.”

Carole Yudin of Smithtown, who gave her age as “older than 75,” said her daughter encouraged her to take the class after she fell.

“It has strengthened my legs, my core and arm muscles because you are really moving them,” she said. “At the beginning, I got leg cramps because I was not used to this, but now I am. … And it has lowered my blood pressure.”

The class last Thursday was in its ninth week, and instructor Adam Contreras told participants at the start of the session that he would be teaching them the eighth and final exercise in the course. The exercises consist of postures and low-impact movements, coupled with stretching and breathing exercises.

The eighth exercise, called Grasp Peacock’s Tail, had participants stand, shift their weight to the left, slowly raise their hands, circle their right hand until it again met their left, and then shift their weight even more to the left – all the while keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground to maintain balance.

Contreras then led the group through all eight movements they had learned in the last month, and then handed out written descriptions and a CD of them.

Contreras, 31, a Gurwin employee, was trained to lead the class by an instructor at the YMCA of Huntington. Called, “Moving for Better Balance,” the course was developed by the YMCA of the USA for those who can work easily with or without assistive devices.

Staci Rosenberg-Simons, director of marketing and community relations at the Gurwin facility, said Gurwin reached out to the YMCA of Huntington, L.I., when it learned of the program.

“We partnered with them and became one of their satellite facilities because we saw the benefits of the program,” she said, adding that Gurwin has been involved in many community efforts and programs open to the public since it opened 12 years ago.

After Contreras completed the 12-week certification class, he ran his first class at Gurwin in October.

“The first week we advertised it we had more than 100 people sign up,” Rosenberg-Simons recalled. “We put people on waiting lists because each class could have a maximum of 12 in a class.”

The class has been held three additional times, and plans are now being made to hold another 12-week class at the end of September. The waiting list is now down to about 40 names, but Rosenberg-Simons said she is prepared to add to it.

Classes are taught in the all-purpose room from 12:30 p.m. until 1:30 p.m., the time residents are at lunch so it doesn’t interfere with their activities. There are 201 apartments in the assisted living complex. 

“This is a community where people are living and we did not want to take away space from them, so the class is offered at a time when it won’t affect them,” Rosenberg-Simons said.

She said residents have their own 45-minute daily fitness routine after breakfast.

“It too is about helping them improve their balance, coordination and flexibility,” Rosenberg-Simons said. “Everything we do is designed to improve people’s fitness because we know that after 65, one out of three adults will have a fall within a year and that falls are the number one death-related injury.”

Dr. David Siskind, medical director of the Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, pointed out that for those 65 and older “taking medications and having a bunch of medical conditions can make one lightheaded and dizzy, which causes falls. And the chances are that if you fall once, you will fall again.”

These exercises, he said, are designed to “improve your balance and strength, as well as your bone mass so that if you do fall you are less likely to injure yourself. They also improve your cardiovascular health, your capacity to do things, and your mental health. … It is something you should do as part of your daily routine.”

Contreras said that once the eight exercises are learned, they should be done in the morning and evening and take no more than 20 minutes daily.

One of those taking the class, Violet Koehler, said she has a “back problem and my back has been better since coming here – and it has improved my balance.”

Joe Lupo, 80, of East Northport, added that his “balance is better and I am able to squat more easily when I do gardening – my legs feel stronger.” 

To register for the next class, call Staci Rosenberg-Simons at 631-715-8537.