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Require Balance and Fitness Training in Retirement Communities

Since fitness training can make a huge difference in fall prevention, retirement homes could require residents to attend regular classes.

Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls?

The ultimate beneficiaries are vulnerable seniors, but this idea invites retirement communities to participate in a structured program - and they too would benefit because their reputations would be enhanced and their resident satisfaction scores would improve.

People often fall because they lose their balance or because they lack strength and coordination due to lack of activity and atrophy. Most seniors are women, and most women in that generation did not have early encouragement to play sports or stay physically fit. That baseline lack of fitness, combined with the fact that they're generally out of the habit of daily physical activity, increases their fall risk as they age. 

Some retirement homes are known for their location. Others are known for their proximity to hospitals, or their dining options, or their high staff-to-resident ratios. If retirement communities adopt a formal, structured fitness/balance/fall prevention program, this could enhance their reputations, and literally become a selling point for new residents.

Obviously the program would need to be customized to suit individual needs - so it would begin with an assessment as part of the intake/orientation process. In addition to receiving daily or frequent fall-prevention fitness and balance training, all residents would receive education about other things they can do to prevent falls.

This could be tested in Sunrise or another large assisted-living company.

Ultimately a new crop of senior-focused fitness trainers would have to be trained, deployed, and paid. AARP or a group like Silver Sneakers could potentially be enlisted.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I could ask the executive director at Belmont Village in Scottsdale, AZ, where my mother lives, if he might adopt such a program if it were offered to him. I'd ask what the program would have to include in order to make it attractive, and what would be a deal-breaker. I'd learn more about what his team is currently doing to prevent falls - and ask how that could be supplemented. I could interview the E.D. of Goodwin House in Alexandria, VA along these same lines.

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

A few years ago the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition established guidelines for daily physical activity for people of all ages. This happened as a result of numerous meetings by a wide array of experts in related fields. Similarly, I envision a meeting of the best minds in fall prevention - oh, wait! you're already here in OpenIDEO! :-) - to figure out what this program should entail. We could build on existing fall prevention programs to identify and test key elements.

How long has your idea existed?

  • 0-3 months

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

For the past five years I've served as VP for Innovation at ASAE (the "association for associations.") We use design thinking to develop new products and help other associations do the same. Before that, I had an innovative career as an author specializing in the empowerment of women though sports.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Mariah!

Thank you for posting. It would be interesting to know what Belmont Village is doing and if they are including anything like Nintendo Wii-based exercise games or Exercise Patterns to Prevent Fall Risk 

Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson

Hi Kate,

I hope to discuss this with the staff during my next visit (May), since they are raising the question of how they can improve. They do offer a lot of Wii games, and have robust physical therapy and exercise program (with mats on the floor in the PT room, BTW, as I recall). And yes, I think they're up on the exercise patterns mentioned in that post.