Free exercise program for seniors to reduce the risk of falls | Guide Dogs NSW/ACT

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12 February, 2016

Free exercise program for seniors to reduce the risk of falls

Stride Out Safe and Steady

With Australia's ageing population expected to face health challenges that could impact their independence, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is running a free exercise program to help seniors reduce the risk of falls and fall injury.

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

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.

After a successful launch last year, the 'Stride Out Safe & Steady' program will be run again in April this year. It aims to help more people aged 55 and over having trouble getting around safely due to vision loss to reduce the risk of falls and fall injury by re-building their mobility safety and confidence.

The free program operates one day a week for 6 consecutive weeks, with registration closing on March 11. See below for registration details.

"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 Specialist at Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, who has organised the 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 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 functions.

One of the participants in last year's program was Graham Male, who is 83 years old and has had trouble seeing since losing all vision in his right eye following a stroke three years ago. With vision impairment increasing his risk of falls, Graham found that he was no longer able to do some of his favourite activities.

"I had to stop driving and playing bowls, and then I had a fall while out walking one day with my bushwalking club, so I had to stop bushwalking as well. It was quite traumatic," he said.

Following a recommendation from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Graham signed up for the 'Stride Out Safe & Steady' program and has since found himself putting a lot of what he learnt about reducing fall injury into practical use.

"The program was very good. The exercises focused on strengthening your lower legs and ankles, and also included some breathing exercises. For me, learning how to minimise the damage if you do have a fall has been particularly useful," 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 contact O&M Specialist Yin Wah Wan on 9412 9318 or ywan [at]