Exercise program for seniors | Guide Dogs NSW/ACT

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05 May, 2015

Exercise program for seniors

Four participants of the exercise program, standing in a row, taking part in a balance exercise

New, free exercise program to help seniors with vision loss stay steady on their feet

With Australia's ageing population expected to face health challenges that could impact their independence, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has launched a new, free exercise program to help seniors experiencing vision loss stay steady on their feet.

Poor or declining vision increases the risks of falls, accidents and depression, with research showing that the prevalence of vision loss trebles with each decade over the age of 40.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT's new 'Stride Out Safe & Steady' exercise program aims to help people aged 55 and over having trouble getting around safely due to vision loss, through re-building their mobility safety and confidence and reducing the risk of falls.

The free initiative from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is open to NSW residents. The program operates one day a week for 10 consecutive weeks. Registration details are provided below.

"The Stride Out Safe & Steady program aims to enable seniors experiencing vision loss to get around safely and confidently so they can maintain their independence in doing day-to-day activities," said Ying-Wah Wan, an Orientation and Mobility Instructor at Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, who has organised the new program.

"As the average life expectancy is expected to increase from 82.5 years of age now to 96 years by 2055, the 'Stride Out Safe & Steady' program may be able to prepare our ageing population to face the challenges of longer living."

The 'Stride Out Safe & Steady' program, which was run as a successful pilot last year, is focused on ongoing practical learning. Its structure comprises multiple practical and inspirational advice sessions on how to reduce the risks of falls through a combination of specifically tailored exercises, and a healthy active approach to sustaining confidence and independence in orientation, mobility and daily functionalities.

One of the participants in last year's pilot program was Margaret, who is 93 years old and has had trouble seeing since her early 30s due to Cataracts.

"I was having some spectacular falls before I did the program, but I haven't had any since," says Margaret, who is pictured at the front of this photo doing the program's exercises.

"The exercises make you concentrate on what you are doing and they're helping me strengthen the muscles in my legs. I still struggle with my balance, but the exercises are helping me with that. I want to be independent for as long as I can be, and this program is helping me to achieve that."

Another participant of the pilot was Graham, who he had just learnt he was losing the sight in his right eye to Glaucoma when he started the program. He was devastated that he'd had to give up driving and doing other things that he liked to do, like bowling and bushwalking.

"I was depressed and fed up. I felt isolated until I found this program. The exercises have strengthened my legs, and through the professional help I've received I've learnt how to fall on my buttocks not my hip, which was helpful for when I had a recent fall," says Graham.

This program is also assisting seniors whose vision impairment is due to other causes like brain injury. Raphael, for example, is a participant of the program whose vision has been impaired following a stroke. As part of the course, Raphael had his mobility and visual skills reviewed and appropriate recommendations provided.

"This program has been very helpful in becoming aware of my surroundings. As a result of the program, I also visited Guide Dogs NSW/ACT's Low Vision clinic and they put prisms on my glasses to help me walk down the street better, especially in times of low light," he said.

Facts about age-related vision loss

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among Australians aged 40 or over. In 2014, over 40,000 Australians over the age of 40 were estimated to be blind due to AMD, representing 50% of the number of Australians who are blind. AMD is a degenerative condition affecting the macula, a small area at the centre of the retina. The macula is responsible for fine detailed vision needed for activities such as driving, reading and distinguishing colour. AMD blurs central vision, which affects both distance and near vision. It can lead to partial loss of vision or blind spots appearing in central vision. Fortunately, a person's side (peripheral) vision remains intact.
  • Known as the 'sneak thief of sight', Glaucoma is the second leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. It affects about 2.5% of Australians aged over 50, which is around 180,000 people, with this figure expected to more than double by 2025. Glaucoma is often difficult to detect in its early stages, with one in two affected Australians likely to not know they have it. The disease slowly damages the optic nerves connecting the eye to the brain, and if left untreated, it can cause tunnel vision and lead to blindness.
  • Despite effective and readily available surgery, Cataract is still a leading cause of vision impairment, with the incidence of the eye disease doubling with each decade over 40 years of age. A cataract is the clouding or opacity of the lens that creates blurred vision. Cataracts affect both distance and near vision and are usually a result of the aging process. They can also develop for other reasons which include congenital causes (from birth) and trauma to the eye. Cataracts that occur as a result of aging usually develop slowly and affect both eyes at different rates. While all surgery is associated with some risk, cataract surgery has one of the highest success rates. It involves surgery to remove the cataract and insert a plastic intraocular lens.

For more information or to register for the 'Stride Out Safe & Steady' program, please call Guide Dogs NSW/ACT on 9412 9300 or visit www.guidedogs.com.au or www.visionloss.com.au.