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Falls in people over 65 feared to increase after shielding restrictions end

Elderfit classes draw on a variety of techniques, including mobility exercises using resistance bands ©Elderfit

With a third of people over 65 falling every year, falls cost the NHS two billion pounds annually. And with the inactivity in older people that lockdown and shielding caused, it is feared that falls could pose an increased threat to life. Elderfit, a company specialising in exercise for the elderly, was established to combat the risk that falls pose to the older generation, and when lockdown struck they took all of their face to face classes in care homes and community centres online.

Margaret Shanahan, 69 from Splott, Cardiff started Elderfit classes two years ago, following a recommendation from her GP to help alleviate the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as severe knee pain. As a direct result of Elderfit classes, Margaret has seen her health improve dramatically, where she went from struggling to breathe while doing basic tasks as well as suffering with chronic knee pain which kept her awake at night, to breathing much better and virtually no knee pain at all. She was also able to continue with the classes throughout lockdown with Elderfit’s online classes.

Margaret is one of over 1,000 weekly Elderfit members taking part in 37 classes across South Wales. Since the pandemic began, the classes were made digital to allow their members to carry on at home and allow new members to access the specialist sessions.

Elderfit classes draw on a variety of techniques, including mobility exercises using resistance bands as well as hand and leg weights. They focus on building independence, helping people re-discover their confidence and stability. Their classes are also designed to reduce the risk of falls and help strengthen upper body muscles for participants, so if a fall occurs, individuals will be more able to pull themselves back up. With lockdown and shielding, this wass more important than ever to help keep older people healthy and safe.

Margaret said: “Being able to do the classes online during lockdown and while I was shielding was great, it allowed me to keep active while at home and workout at a time that suits me. If it were not for the online classes, I believe my health would have deteriorated to what it was before I started the Elderfit classes, so I am very glad I have been able to carry them on, I’m going to stick with the classes even though I no longer have to shield as they suit how I live my life, I know my daughter worries less about me since I’ve been excercising too.”

Mel Shanahan, 46, Margaret’s daughter, had been trying to get her mum to take part in exercise classes for years, Mel said: “I never expected my mum to enjoy the classes as much as she has, over the years I suggested she tried lots of different ways of keeping active, but she has never found something she enjoys. Now Mum does Elderfit she loves going to the classes, and since the outbreak began, she’s been doing them online, which has been easy for her to do alone from the safety of her own home.”

“When the lockdown was announced, I was worried for my mum and her health, but when I found out the classes were going online, it offered me peace of mind knowing she was keeping active when I wasn’t able to see her. Mum has also made friends through the classes who she now meets up with outside of Elderfit, so it has been great for her in many ways.”

Elderfit classes are recommended by a range of health professionals, including GP’s and physiotherapists. Before Covid-19, it was mostly South Wales’ older population that benefited from Elderfit’s classes, but now that everyone can access their expertise.

Dr Fiona Jenkins, Executive Director for Therapies and Health Science at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, said: “A third of people over 65 will fall every year, which can have a major impact on both their physical and emotional wellbeing. However, falls aren’t an inevitable part of ageing, and there are a number of resources available to help reduce the risk of falling, including the sessions offered by Elderfit.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that we have had to adapt how we deliver services to many groups of patients including those on our falls prevention pathway, which has included the introduction of digital resources such as our new Keeping Me Well website and Virtual Stay Steady Clinics. We’re pleased that Elderfit has followed suit with the introduction of these online exercise classes.”

Gareth Bartlett, co-director of Elderfit shared his concerns regarding inactivity and its effects on the older generation post lockdown: “It’s of paramount importance that older people regularly exercise to improve their strength and balance, not only to help reduce the risks of falls but to maintain their confidence and independence. During lockdown people have been confined to their homes and are facing fears around not only their general health, but from their decreased lack of mobility. Now restrictions are being lifted, we want the physical aspect of that fear minimised so that they have the confidence to return to their normal routine.”