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Lunch N Learn event discusses senior programs

VALLEY — A large crowd of local seniors was treated to a two-part Lunch N Learn program during the noon hour on Friday at Bradshaw-Chambers County Library.

In the first portion of the program, Sgt. Duane Vallia of the Valley Police Department talked about the proven success of Project Lifesaver, and in the second part Auburn realtor Steve Alberts talked to them about avoiding falls and how to make their homes safer.

Sgt. Vallia said the Project Lifesaver program was ideal for families with a loved one with a medical condition that put them at risk of wandering away from home. This could be a child with autism or Down syndrome or an adult with dementia.

The at-risk individual, said Sgt. Vallia, wears a personalized wristband that emits a tracking signal. Should that person wander off from their family, a local Project Lifesaver agency is notified and an immediate search begins.

“A search and rescue team goes to where the wanderer was last seen and starts searching with a mobile locator tracking system,” Vallia said. “Search times have been reduced from hours and days to minutes using this equipment.”

The family member wears the wristband at all times. It’s comfortable but will not come off.

“The only way to get it off is to cut it off,” Vallia said.

They can bathe with it, shower with it and go swimming with it on and it won’t harm the transmitting device. The only maintenance requirement if for a one-ounce battery to be replaced every month or so.

At estimated five million Americans have dementia and other related disorders. That number is expected to grow in the coming years.

“Well more than half of these people are given to wandering and can become lost,” Vallia said.

It’s a critical emergency when a person with dementia becomes lost.

“They are unaware of their situation,” Vallia said. “They do not call out for help nor do they respond to people calling out to them. Many become injured, and some may die if they are not located within 24 hours.”

Vallia said that Project Lifesaver deploys specially-trained teams with the most reliable technology available to quickly locate and return wandering adults and children to their families and caregivers.

Local participating agencies in Project Lifesaver include police and fire departments in Valley, Lanett, West Point and LaFayette, and sheriff’s offices in Chambers, Troup and Harris counties.

“It’s a good idea to be prepared,” Vallia said. “Project Lifesaver works. Talk to anyone who has ever worked with it. First responders throughout the area have been well trained in it, and it comes at no cost to the families.”

A woman present for the program joked that she won’t be hard to find if she ever wanders off.

“They’ll probably find me at Walmart,” she said to lots of laughter.

“We all hope we don’t need one anytime soon,” she added, “but it is good to know that someone will be looking out for us.”

“As long as I have the energy and good health to get out and do things I will keep doing it,” Vallia said.

In the second part of the program, Steve Alberts asked everyone to stand up and stretch for a bit before listening to his presentation. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and it looked a bit like a SilverSneakers work out.

Alberts said that SilverSneakers is a great program and keeps him going strong at 73. He participates in the program in Opelika. He also raved about the benefits of tai chi. “These are good practices if you can take them,” he said.

He suggested a simple test to determine if you are at risk to fall. The steps include:

• Standing on one foot for 10 seconds;

• Putting on underwear or pants while standing:

• Rise from a chair 10 times without using the arms;

• Close your eyes and stand without falling, and

• Make sure you can get up easily from every surface you sit on – a chair, bed, couch or toilet.

“Make sure you have someone nearby to assist you, if needed,” he added.

Alberts encouraged anyone in their golden years to face life with excitement and tenacity.

“I’m 73 and not as athletic as I once was,” he said. “We need to be excited about doing the things that can keep us healthy. If we want to maintain an independent lifestyle, we have got to avoid problems like falling. I know each one of you wants to stay healthy so you can go to church, participate in senior programs and go to places like the library. I want people to be safe, comfortable and to have a home where they are safe.”

To be safe in the home, Alberts advises seniors to:

•get in the habit of getting up slowly after they sit or lie down;

• Keep emergency numbers in large print near every phone;

• Have a phone near the floor in case they fall and can’t get up;

• Wear a carpenter’s nail bib as a handy place to have a cell phone;

• Wear good-fitting shoes with good support;

• Maintain a clear path to the bathroom;

• Have someone help you move furniture, if necessary, so the paths are clear in every room;

• Remove throw rugs and use non-slip ones;

• Remove items from the floor you might trip over;

• Remove items from stairs you might trip over;

• Install night lights or motion detector lights throughout your home;

• Place a lamp near the bed where it’s easy to reach.

“For those who are age 65 and older, the greatest health concern is the fear of falling,” Alberts said. “This year there will be more than three million Americans who will be treated in an emergency room after a fall. Almost one million of them will be hospitalized because of an injury suffered in a fall. Medical costs associated with falls are around $35 billion a year. Even with good medical insurance, you will usually have a 20 percent co pay. That’s a $7 billion out-of-pocket cost. That’s a lot of money.”

Alberts said that for those who are 75 and older, there’s a good chance you will have to have long-term care after a fall. For nearly two-thirds of those who are 85 and older, a fall could mean that you will never walk again.

“I strongly recommend that you make your home safe,” said Alberts. “It’s where you are 90 percent of the time. Think ahead, plan ahead, be wise and practical. If you do one thing I said today and it keeps you from having a fall, I feel like my mission has been accomplished.”