Five minutes after class began, the nerves had worn off and smiles began to show.

Masonic Village at Dallas has long enjoyed mutually beneficial relationship with Misericordia University, and four years ago, the neighboring communities began a Fall Prevention Program to encourage good health, exercise and well-being, as well as give students real-life field experience.

Recognizing the national concern of falling by older adults, Joy Hubshman, director of sales and marketing, and Noah Davis, executive director, reached out to the university in 2016, which emerged into this exciting opportunity.

In the first year, a total of 36 participants, ranging from adults who exercise regularly to those with limitations, took advantage of the weekly program to work one-on-one with first-year graduate physical therapy students.

“Our students, who are generally in their 20s, often make the decision to become a physical therapist based on wanting to work with professional athletes,” Dr. Laurie Brogan, assistant professor of physical therapy, said. “However, physical therapy clientele are often older. Initially, the students had some fears about communicating with the residents, but those were quickly overcome!”

At first, residents felt the same.

“I wasn’t quite sure how the program would impact my day-to-day living, but the information I received and the work of the students has improved my mobility greatly,” resident Rosalie Cunningham said. “I appreciate everything they’ve taught me.”

The first class evaluated each resident’s strength, balance, agility endurance and vital signs, creating baseline statistics that would later be used to measure progress. The following classes focused on teaching risk factors for falling, how to reduce risks of falling at home and while out, teachings on the proper footwear and exercises, as well as assessments of vision and bone health.

In addition to the hands-on experience the students received and the education the residents gained, the university conducted its own research study throughout the program on fall prevention techniques for older adults.

According to Dr. Kristen Karnish, associate professor of physical therapy, and Dr. Brogan, the key to avoiding falls and maintaining independence is to be proactive. It’s important to see a doctor regularly, review medications with a doctor or pharmacist, maintain a safe environment (free of obstacles or clutter) and exercise regularly to gain and sustain strength and balance.

“We all have something to teach one another in terms of knowledge and experience, no matter our age,” Dr. Karnish said.

Now in its fourth year, the program continues to benefit students and residents.