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Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore Pilot Launch of First-of-its-Kind Virtual A Matter of Balance Program

The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot of things. One thing that’s still the same? Falling is not a normal part of aging.

One in four older adults falls every year, and falls are a leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries. Falls threaten seniors’ safety and independence and generate enormous economic and personal costs. Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore have launched the first-of-its kind virtual version of It’s a Matter of Balance (MOB) program to reduce the risk of falls, said Crystal Polizzotti, ESMV-NS Healthy Aging Program Manager.

The four-week MOB virtual workshop is conducted over nine sessions and led by trained coaches over Zoom. The program’s goal is to reduce fear of falling by emphasizing practical coping strategies and increase activity levels and confidence among older adults.

The in-person version of the program had been on pause because of COVID until MaineHealth, the home of the MOB program, reached out to Elder Services about creating a virtual version. ETHOS of Boston and Bristol Elder Services joined ESMV-NS to pilot the program via Zoom thanks to funding from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation.

Methuen resident Yvonne Paplaskas, 72, has gone through the program three times, twice in person and most recently via Zoom.

“I have a knack of falling and had fallen at work three times and three times at my previous job,” Paplaskas said. “But I often fall, and I am not tripping over anything – I would just lose my balance.”

She enrolled in MOB and said she has taken twice more because she gets so much out of it. Paplaskas got tips about how to get up off the floor should she fall, and that is what makes the class valuable to her – she gets solutions and different ways to think about situations.

“I took it again because I felt like I needed some reinforcements,” she said. “It makes me more conscious of being more careful, and I really do enjoy it.”

The program is shown to reduce costs in unplanned hospitalization, skilled nursing and home health, and a $938 decrease in total annual medical costs. Polizzotti said 97 percent of participants are more comfortable talking about a fear of falling and feel comfortable increasing activity, nearly all plan to continue exercising, and recommend the program.

Virtual MOB workshops are being held this month and through October. For more information about Matter of Balance and this pilot program, visit https://healthyliving4me.org/