Preparing Your Body and Mind for the Season Ahead

By Dillon Kato

While many Montanans celebrate the start of winter as the beginning of the skiing and snowboarding season, the snow and ice can also bring challenges.

Here is some advice to keep you active, healthy and engaged when the weather turns frosty.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has created a program called Stepping On and partnered with 40 locations across the state to help seniors learn how to prevent injuries from falls.

DPHHS says falls account for 83 percent of the injury hospitalizations among residents age 65 and
older every year.

Winter StrollJeremy Brokaw, the department’s injury prevention program coordinator, said the Stepping On meets for two hours once a week for seven weeks. “There’s a different topic for each class,’’ he said. “So one might be strength and balance, another on prescription drugs and how they might influence factors that lead to a fall.”

Course leaders also talk with participants about the importance of having an annual vision exam and making sure they are using proper footwear. “For the winter, that might include education about Yaktrax or using a cane or a walking stick,” Brokaw said.

Yaktrax are a popular brand of traction devices that can be attached to the bottom of shoes to give them more grip while walking on snowy or icy surfaces.

Brokaw’s office at DPHHS also recommends that seniors maintain a regular exercise pattern, which makes them stronger and improves coordination.

Brokaw said the Stepping On courses are particularly helpful for seniors who have had a fall in the past year and are worried about another.

“The evidence shows that people who complete the class are less fearful of a fall,” he said. “We want
people to alleviate those fears and know that they can get out in the community.”

Brokaw said Montanans interested in learning more about the Stepping On courses or who want to find
one near them can call him at 406-444-4126 or send an email to jbrokaw@mt.gov.

Another winter health concern is influenza. While the state DPHHS recommends all Montanans 6 months old and above receive a vaccination to protect against the seasonal flu each year, it says it is especially important for residents 65 and older, who are at a higher risk of complications from the flu.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in recent years, between 54 and 70 percent of all seasonal-flu related hospitalizations have been among people 65 and older age.

Partly because our immune systems weaken as we age, the CDC says seniors are at higher risk for
contracting the flu and suffering from more severe symptoms or additional health complications from the disease.

DPPHS says seniors should try to get their vaccinations done in the fall because the flu season in
Montana normally peaks in January.

Montanans looking to avoid cabin fever when the weather gets colder and the snow starts to fall should
consider taking a class from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Montana.
The continuing education program, also known as MOLLI, is available to adults ages 50 and over
who want an opportunity to continue learning in a classroom setting without enrolling as a traditional
student. Unlike standard classes at UM, MOLLI courses are noncredit and don’t have tests or homework.

For the past decade, MOLLI has offered classes during three terms in the fall, winter and spring.

Taking MOLLI classes requires a $20 annual membership. After that, each six-week course costs $60, and meets one day a week for an hour and a half.

Roger Maclean, the dean of the School of Extended & Lifelong Learning, which facilitates the MOLLI
program, said while the winter term is the least busy of the three, they have seen a resurgence in its
popularity in recent years. In 2015, MOLLI had 870 people enrolled, a record for the winter.

“There are a lot of seniors who leave and move south during the winters but I think there have been
more and more who are saying, ‘I’m staying here, I need something to do to keep my mind and my brain
engaged,’” he said.

Registration for the winter session of MOLLI, which runs from Jan. 17 to Feb. 24, will open on Dec. 5.

Maclean said the class schedule for that term, which will include 15 to 17 courses, should be available
about a week before registration.

Information about MOLLI courses can be found online at umt.edu/ce/plus50 or by calling the MOLLI office at 406- 243-2905.

Dillon Kato writes for the Missoulian at: dillon.kato@missoulian.com

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