I am a part of Team Young Adults, a diverse bunch of curious design thinkers from New York University collaborating together to design solutions that will help prevent falls in older adults. We want to facilitate in helping them live a healthy and young life. We aim at building solutions based on cross-discipline knowledge and promoting awareness. We aim at eliminating the stigma associated with existing fall prevention tools and solutions.
I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Weinberg Center for Balanced Living as part of my school group: NYU Poly Projects. The Poly Project initiative aims to provide regular and sustained opportunities for NYU students to engage in community service. As my Team Young Adults is conducting Research on fall prevention I grabbed the opportunity to gain insights. I will describe my entire experience volunteering at the Center as edifying and gratifying.
About the Centre:
The Weinberg Center for Balanced Living at the Manny Cantor Center provides empowering classes, workshops, and social events focused on maintaining personal health, engaging the senses, and motivating its members.
I was volunteering with my group on a Monday afternoon for serving Lunch to around 200 seniors. The Center is funded by the Jewish Community, but since it is located so close to Chinatown, a large portion of the seniors coming in are Asians. Our task was serving food to these seniors-from setting the table to plating to final serving. Food consisted of fish, pasta, broccoli and carrot salad.
Post meal service, the volunteers spent their time chatting with the seniors on each of the tables. I classified the people I interviewed as: The age conscious, the fall conscious and the health conscious.
The Age Conscious: This particular lady (late 60’s) but dressed as a twenty-year-old, particularly said that she disliked being called or referred to as old or a ‘senior’. Her story she had fallen in the past but it was a minor fall according to her. The doctor had not advised her to use a cane or a walker or a rollator for any condition, yet her fear of falling again and being prescribed a cane by the doctor led her to use a shopping cart as her walking companion. She says “It helps me for a number of reasons”:
- It gives stability and support
- It does not make one look old, I look like a woman just shopping
- I won’t fall again and get the cane which would make me look old
The Fall Conscious: A couple of people from the Center fell in this category. The first one was a lady who was the friend of the age conscious. She had fallen terribly in the past. She had tried almost everything from the cane to the walker and rollator, but none gave the support and comfort she needed. She said canes were too short, the ones with the support balls at the bottom were no good for her, “they would wobble” she says. The walker and rollator gave her a hunch back. On her friend’s advice (the age conscious lady) she tried the shopping cart. She say “So far so good”. No hunch, right stability and right height. “It works for me”. When told about our project and the research we are working on, she said “I will be happy to test your prototype”. “Be sure to address the pain-points I mentioned”. Two other gentlemen, interviewed said that they had close calls, they were on the verge of falling but had managed to catch themselves. Yet they feared falling. After their close encounters, they had made a few changes in their lifestyle. One of them mentioned, I switched to sneakers, they give good grip. The other mentioned, “I walk slow now, used to be a fast walker but now I tread carefully”.
The Health Conscious: At the corner of the hall was this group of Asian ladies playing cards. None of them had fallen or were at risk. None of them had ever used any kind of mobility device. When asked, what their secret was. Each one said “Eat healthy, exercise regularly, go to the doctor and listen to the doctor, you will never have problems. When asked whether they would be ok using a cane or a walker if the doctor asks them to do. Their response was unanimous: “When you reach a certain age and you need certain things to make your life better, there is no shame in using them it’s for your own good”.
Even though the categories of people were contrasting, yet there was a common link or theme tying them together. Almost everyone is their own doctor, coming up with own remedies and fall prevention tools. There is a need for better fall prevention tools/supporting or stability devices. There is a stigma with these assistive devices in the age conscious whereas the health conscious are more than willing to use it since their health is top most priority.