The art and sport of juggling have been featured in Chautauqua Institution’s recent youth programming — in the Amphitheater by the comedic trio Playing by Air, and at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club by Don Rapp, author of On Balance: Mastery of Physical Balance for Life.
While balance is necessary for keeping two or more objects in the air simultaneously, it is essential for navigating ably through life, especially later life.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a quarter of people aged 65-plus fall unintentionally every year; however, fewer than half inform their doctors.
A single spill doubles one’s chances of falling again, CDC data shows. One in five falls causes serious harm, including broken bones and head injuries, which can not only hamper one’s mobility, but also one’s ability to live alone.
Meg Pickard, who since 2015 has been juggling several roles as Chautauqua Institution’s director of recreation and fitness center manager, is a national expert on ways to prevent fall-related injuries among older people, including by improving their balance.
During her presentation at 9:15 a.m. Thursday at the Chautauqua Women’s Club — “The ‘Real’ Parks and Recreation,” in reference to the sitcom — Pickard will discuss the falls prevention initiative she was instrumental in developing for her former employer, the YMCA. All are welcome.
For 21 years prior to undertaking her current position, Pickard served in various roles for the Jamestown Area YMCA, which she said is one of the oldest Ys in the country, and is even older than Chautauqua Institution.
She initially worked as a dance instructor, and later taught classes in aerobics, step, pilates, water exercise, cycling and “anything and everything.” She also became a building supervisor, providing security for the nights that managers were absent.
Pickard advanced to aerobics coordinator and then to wellness director. In this capacity, she said, she oversaw all of the fitness areas, including personal training and water activities. She also became a liaison, first to the greater Chautauqua community, and then to the hospitals and county health networks. She gave talks and supplied area organizations with instructors and personal trainers.
In 2010, shortly after her mother’s sudden death on Thanksgiving Day, Pickard said she received a call from the YMCA’s national director of health and well-being.
“The top dog in the (national YMCA), a leading voice in the nation, … an adviser to presidents, et cetera,” she said. “When I first answered the phone I thought, ‘What have I done; what did I do wrong?’ ”
The director was looking for Y faculty who could create a “brand new program that would be released across the country to help with fall prevention in the older adult population,” Pickard said.
“I (said) this is so odd, my mother just passed away as a result of a fall, and now you’re calling me to be involved in this,” she continued.
According to Pickard, the CDC chose the YMCA in Chautauqua County to receive funding for this program because at the time, its older adult population had the highest incidents of deaths from falls per capita in the nation. Denver, Colorado, was No. 1 for the total number of fall incidents, and Chautauqua County was No. 2.
The YMCA sent Pickard out to the Oregon Research Institute at Eugene, which conducts federally funded research to better understand human behavior and enhance the quality of human life. She trained with Fuzhong Li, who had earned his master’s in movement studies at the University of Oregon and his Ph.D. in exercise science at Oregon State University.
According to Pickard, Li is well known for his “Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance Program.”
“There’s been a lot of research about tai chi and the benefits to reducing falls in the older adult population,” Pickard said. “And the reason that’s chosen is because you don’t have to have a lot of specialized equipment and you … don’t have to have a specialized room or an aerobic floor, and you don’t need weights, a jump rope, or anything. You could … do it (outside) on a relatively flat, grassy area, or … inside in an open space that has a level floor.”
Pickard said she will engage Thursday’s audience in some very gentle and effective “mind, body and spirit” exercises that can be done at home.
Pickard will be getting a jump on the National Council on Aging’s 10th annual National Falls Prevention Awareness Day, which is Sept. 22, the first day of autumn. Its theme this year is “10 Years Standing Together to Prevent Falls.”
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, “falls are the leading cause of injury-related emergency department visits for older adults, the major cause of hip fractures, and responsible for more than half of fatal head injuries.”
Pickard’s take-home message will be: “Falls are preventable.”