by Valerie Baadh Garrett

We cannot fully prevent falls, but we can help in big ways and small to reduce risk of falling.  We can help reduce fear of falling, practice activities to strengthen our balance and mobility, and eliminate many hazards in our daily lives that can cause falls.

Agile Aging’s programs help prevent falls by applying the science and art of the fundamental processes of sensory integration: of movement, touch, body awareness, vitality, sight and sound.  Through a single agility activity or exercise, through a series of activities such as our Basic Class, and in the holistic practices we promote in working with individuals and communities, we can invite the participant to joyfully engage (and integrate) the sensory system that supports balance, agility, and mobility.

Sensory integration, or sensory processing, happens within the mind-body connection beginning before birth and continuing through the first years of life. Science studies the phenomena of SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) in young children especially when it interferes with behavior and learning, but little has been studied at the other end of life, when the seamless flow of sense impressions begins to dis-integrate.  Such is the natural development within our lifetime: we integrate the mind-body senses in the first years of our lives, and  they disintegrate in the last years.  Falling is one such result of the loss of integrated senses.

Each person’s balance system is a complex interplay of three senses: the visual senses of the eyes, the vestibular sense of balance within the ear, and the proprioceptive sense of self-movement of the body’s limbs and spaces.  Agile Aging’s founder, somatic movement therapist Valerie Baadh Garrett, has researched therapeutic approaches (including Spacial Dynamics®, sports psychology, geriatric kinesiology, and dance therapy) to enhance these systems. She has choreographed a progressive series of agility activities that not only strengthen each sense both separately and together, but delivers a way to practice them with joy and verve through the use of imagery, story-telling, and music in community classes or in private sessions.  These activities are shared with professionals via live workshops, via DVDs and streaming video, and in instructor trainings in California and Massachusetts where caregivers, activities professionals, recreation therapists, or mature people at all stage of aging can learn to help prevent falls and increase vitality, stability, and mobility.

AAclassbalanceFear of falling can increase the tendency to fall.  When one is fearful, one retreats, both physically, emotionally, and even spatially, thus inhabiting a smaller spaces, taking smaller steps, and moving less frequently.  Through practicing different dynamics of movement with the body and with the mind, each individual can learn to expand themselves with a lively interaction with the people and places of everyday life.

For more about Agile Aging, visit our sister website here.

“Sensory experiences include touch, movement, body awareness, sight, sound and the pull of gravity (Koomar, 1996). Sensory Integration is a process by which the brain interprets sensory stimuli from the environment (Hutch-Rasmussen, 1995). Sensory Integration provides a crucial foundation for more complex learning and behavior. 

This process focuses on three basic senses: tactile, vestibular and proprioception which are the building blocks of sensory integration. The tactile sense includes light touch, pain, temperature and pressure.  These senses provide protection reactions for survival.Dysfunction in this area includes withdrawal from touch, refusing to eat certain foods, isolation, irritability and distractibility and hyperactivity (Hutch-Rasmussen, 1995). The vestibular is the inner ear system structures and one manifestation of an intact system is the ability to keep your balance. The dysfunction manifests in walking on uneven surfaces, climbing stairs and being fearful in space (Hutch-Rasmussen, 1995). Proprioception provides subconscious awareness of where the body is in relation to its surroundings (Hutch-Rasmussen, 1995). Dysfunction in this area shows a tendency to fall, lack of awareness of where the body is in relation to its surroundings and eating in a sloppy manner. Another form of proprioception is praxis or motor planning. When the system is working, the body properly obtains accurate information from the sensory systems regarding what the body is sensing. Dysfunction in this area will be manifested as language/speech delays, impulsivity in a new situation, frustration, aggression or withdrawal giving the appearance of depression.

Using sensory integration therapy in other populations has been found to increase functionality and the ability to repeat daily routines more easily. Though little research has been done with the elderly using sensory integration techniques, it is hypothesized that geriatric populations showing symptoms could respond in a similar manner. “ Leslee Wiodyka, Albright College, from The Effects of Sensory Integration Therapy on Cognitive Functioning

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