A Grass Roots Effort On Healthy Aging

Karen PetersonPresenter: Neal Howard
Guest: Karen Peterson
Guest Bio: Karen Peterson, M.A. is the executive director of Giving Back and the founder of the Move With Balance® healthy aging program. She has a combined 40 years of teaching experience in adult education programs, colleges, and senior centers. She is a Certified Educational Kinesiologist, Natural Vision Improvement Instructor, Touch for Health Instructor, and a Certified Massage Therapist.

Segment Overview: Karen Peterson discusses the grass roots effort of her non-profit to spread the word about aging with agility.


Health Professional Radio

Neal: Hello, you’re listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host, Neal Howard. Glad that you’re here with us this afternoon. We’re talking with Karen Peterson in studio today, the executive director of the non-profit organisation known as Giving Back, also the founder of Move with Balance, healthy aging program.

She’s here today to talk with us a little bit about what you really need to do to stay mentally and physically agile as you age, and also how to enhance your overall experience during, as she calls it, your elder years of wisdom is what I understand that she termed those golden years. How are you doing, Karen?

Karen: Fine.  I’m doing just fine, thank you.  Yeah.

Neal: You’re feeling better now than you ever have, and a lot of us, especially the Baby Boomers that are listening this afternoon, are really concerned about how they’re going to spend their golden years.  Are they going to spend them with memory problems?  Are they going to spend them nursing a fall that happened maybe two or three years prior?  How are we going to spend our elder years?  You say that we can stay mentally and physically agile with some not strenuous at all movements of the body.

 You’re the developer of a healthy aging program.  Could you talk just a little bit about that?  And then I’d like to get into a little bit of something else associated with your organisation.

Karen: Okay.  Well, these activities work on the brain and the body at the same time.  I kind of call them sensory motor integration activities, motor being movement and the senses, you know, how we see and perceive the world.  We’re getting those integrated, so we’re holistically working on the body and the brain, which we have discussed earlier.

Neal: And as you say, we discussed earlier, this is not an exercise regimen or an exercise program.  It’s actually a program that enhances concentration.  It enhances balance.  It enhances eyesight as well as the physical body, the muscles by these, as you say, evidence-based techniques.  Could you speak a bit about the evidence that you gained and how you gained that evidence?

Karen: Well, I had the head of our department of health was very interested in this program.  So when I went into one assisted living facility, he came in and did some testing.  He randomised the people there.  First of all – this was kind of interesting – I wanted to just get the most healthy people to do the program, figuring that was going to be the best.  But as we talked to the people at the assisted living, they said that they wanted to put in the high fallers is what they called them, the high fallers.

Neal: Now, okay.  The high fallers – does that mean that they’re falling from a height?

Karen: A lot.

Neal: Oh, a lot.  Okay, a high rate … [crosstalk 03:10]

Karen: A lot of falls.  They’re like at-risk for falling.  And I thought, “Well God, this is a little scary.  I don’t know if it’s going to work with these high fallers,” I said to myself.  But I said, “I guess since that’s what they want, I’ll go do it.”  So they randomised the people.  We had a control group and a treatment group.  Then we planned to cross over – those who were the treatment group would later become the control group.

What happened was when they … see, and I don’t understand how these studies work totally, but what happened, when he went to make them the control group, he found out he couldn’t because they had improved so much and couldn’t go back down to zero.  So it was like whatever they did, a few months later, they were still not falling.  So that was just amazing.  It’s like once you learn how to play golf or play tennis or drive or ride a bike, it’s in your system.  And that’s exactly what this does because new pathways in the brain are created.

 So he couldn’t even have … these people then become the control group, the ones who had had the treatment.  So that was kind of interesting.

Neal: And people love to hear or sometimes need to hear statistics.  They need to hear numbers.  Now, one of your independent studies that was mentioned in the Hawaii Journal of Medicine and Public Health late last year, I do believe, could you speak a bit about what was found in that independent study?

Karen: Okay.  They found 66% efficacy to prevent falls.  In other words, the people that had taken the program, the treatment group, fell 66% less.  So that was amazing.  And here’s what’s kind of [inaudible 05:04]] about two other studies, but we couldn’t measure it the same because when you say to somebody, “How many times have you fallen this year?”  Well, you know a fall is something like when a knee and three body parts touch, two hands and a knee or two knees and a hand.  I mean, it’s so technical.

And maybe I’m going to trip a little, and I’m not going to consider that a fall.  So this was really an important study because at the assisted living, they kept track of the falls.  So the people, we didn’t go up and say to them, “How many times did you fall?”  We’d just look in a book.  Okay, this is how much they fell the year and a half before.  This is how much they’re falling the year and a half after.  I think it was a year and a half.  And that’s what they found, that it really was working.

Neal: That’s not a significant amount of time when it comes to reducing your risk of doing something that we assume or have been, I guess, trained to think that all seniors are going to have to face.  Now, 66% just in one independent study, that’s a significant amount in the reduction of, I guess, what you call the high fallers – a significant amount.

Karen: Well, what I’d really like to do if there’s anyone listening that would like to repeat or work with us to get some more data, to do the program again and to get a little bit more data.  Because this is just one assisted living place, but we did it write it up.  He wrote it up, this person, this doctor here, and submitted it to the Hawaii Journal of Medicine and Public Health, and they accepted it for publication, and then it’s peer-reviewed.

 And so far, nobody has said, “What does this all mean?”  So it’s been accepted, I guess, at this point.  That’s how you do it.  I’m not schooled in exactly how you write these journals and all that but he’s doing that.

Neal: When you mention that it has been accepted, it’s a little bit deeper than just having been accepted.  I mean, your vision for the program has basically turned into a grassroots effort to educate and, I guess, disseminate this information to people.  You say this was … we were talking about just one aging treatment centre.  There are thousands throughout the country, and there are thousands of caregivers that aren’t in these facilities.

Karen: Right.  I know.

Neal: There are thousands of caregivers who are at home or travelling to someone else’s home.  So this can be used across the board.  Could you talk a little bit about the efforts of your organisation to spread these techniques across the country?

Karen: Well, we of course are a teeny organisation, very small, with needing funding to this promotion.  And it’s true.  It could be easily used by a professional caregiver who stops in the different homes and could do these exercises with them.  Family members can do it with their people.  So being on your show like this is really helpful for me to be able to spread the word and have people learn about it because I’m not exactly a marketer.  I’m much more of the person who can do the exercises and work with the seniors.

So that’s probably the one thing we’re struggling with is to really get it out.  But it’s happening.  And I also wanted to make a program that can be used, just like you said, by the grassroots idea.  I’ve had people call me and they wanted to maybe start a group at their church.  So they could easily do that.  If they were willing to be a leader, somebody who’s maybe worked with people before or a teacher, and then they could even have the frail and the fit working together.  They could get some kids involved.  Children can do these activities.  So it’s really a community-building program too.

And I wanted it to be like that, a real democratic kind of a program.  And I am working on getting together some training webinars for certain offices on aging and things who’d like to have that, and that’s going to happen.  I’m creating like a certification program to be able to really pass it on.  But in the meantime, it’s really available to anyone, and I have written it just like that.  And you’ll see when you go to the website that it is so easy for people to be able to do it, and I’m willing to talk to anybody.  I talk to people on the phone about it all the time.

Neal: Now, as seniors, there’s a saying out there—I’m paraphrasing—seniors don’t get to be seniors by not paying attention and not learning to become aware of how things work.  And a lot of seniors are interested in credibility.  You’re an award-winning author, not just simply an author.  You’ve written the book Move with Balance: Healthy Aging Activities for Brain and Body.  Could you speak a little bit to the credibility of your publication as far as awards and kudos, as it were?

Karen: Okay.  The part that even got me into the replication was I don’t know how they found me, but Mutual of America in New York City, all of a sudden, I got a letter in the mail saying that our program was picked as one of the ten innovative programs in the country that should be replicated.  I mean, I couldn’t believe it, so I started thinking, “I wonder if that’s really true.”  And then I just started working on it.

And like I said, if things work out and unfold that way, you tend to keep on it, where if nothing happened or nobody seemed to like it, I probably would’ve stopped doing it.  But because it got a positive response, I kept on.  And then, in 2012, the American Society on Aging gave it what’s called the Mind Alert Award for Brain Health.  And they flew me to Washington DC and I went to the conference and presented and everything, and that was really exciting.

And so then, I got a grant to write the book.  So I was able to get somebody to make those 60 videos I mentioned and take the colour photographs, and then I wrote it and on and on like that.  And then, since the book came out in January 2013, it won the Living Now Book Award in the category of mature living and aging.  And then just about two weeks ago, I got a notice that it’s a finalist for the Book of the Year Award in the health category.

This is all on the website too, but Foreword Reviews picks what they think are the best, what they call indie books, independently published books to get noticed around to libraries and people.  So in June this year, they’re going to announce the winners of that award, but even just to be a finalist is really exciting.  So to me, this just shows that I should keep doing this because since it wins awards, that means people want me to keep it on.

Neal: Well, it means it’s helping people.  There are people who are actually seeing the positive results of your techniques, and there are people who are willing to help you financially and with other types of support to help spread the word and get the message out.  You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio.  I’m your host, Neal Howard.  Our guest in studio today has been Karen Peterson, the executive director of a non-profit organisation called Giving Back and founder of Move with Balance, a healthy aging program.

 And to go along with this healthy aging program, Karen has written the book Move with Balance: Healthy Aging Activities for Brain and Body.  Well, Karen, we Baby Boomers need to wake up and take heed that some of the things that we’ve been doing to stay healthy all these years and sharp mentally and physically, may not be enough.  Her innovative and evidence-based movement system can really enhance our agility as we move into our older years.  It’s been so much fun having you here with us today, Karen.

Karen: I’ve really enjoyed it, Neal.  Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Neal: Great, and hopefully you’ll come back and talk with us some more in the future.

Karen: I’d love to.

Neal: Great.  Transcripts of this program are available at healthprofessionalradio.com.au and also at hpr.fm.

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