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Aging expo keeps seniors living large later in life

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Nancy Williams, left, and Joyce McCallum, right, sign up at a health and wellness booth for hearing, during the Aging Expo at the Convention Center Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017.


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Monday, October 23, 2017

Senior citizens wishing to stay on their feet and enjoy life longer converged on the Greenville Convention Center Thursday for the annual Healthy Aging and Wellness Expo.

Falls prevention and dozens of other issues of concern to people 50 and older were covered by health care providers and vendors, all of whom focused on making the inevitable progression of life and aging as positive as possible. 

The expo was a collaboration between the Pitt Aging coalition and the Eastern North Carolina chapter of the N.C. Falls Prevention Coalition. Coalition members Andrew Ross of the ECU Lifelong Learning Program and Mary Hall, coordinator of senior services at Vidant Health, co-chaired the event.

Each day in North Carolina, accidental falls account for about 531 emergency room visits, 69 hospitalizations and two to three deaths, according to data from the injury and violence prevention branch of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly 90 percent of these falls involve the elderly, making them the No. 1 cause of injury death for individuals 65 and older. 

The mission of the Falls Prevention Coalition  is to reduce the number of falls and the seriousness of injuries resulting from falls. The organization works collaboratively to identify needs and resources, engage the public about falls risks and strategies to reduce them and deliver effective evidence-based falls prevention programs and practices to those at risk for falls.

The event allowed visitors to receive free risk screenings and learn ways to reduce falls.

“We can check their balance and determine whether they have issues with dizziness or body positioning and movement; things going on with the way they walk and get around, which puts them at a higher risk for falls,” Hall said. “We also know that seniors take a lot more medications, which also puts them at higher risk for falls, especially if they interact with each other.”

Experts also provided free vision and hearing tests, factors that also can contribute to falls, Hall said. Vidant physical therapists talked with people about flexibility and joint safety.

The expo hosted 47 individual contributors from Pitt and other area counties who provided resources, tips an demonstrations on subjects including vision and oral health, blood pressure checks, flu shots, home health options, assisted living, hospice care, stroke awareness, mental health services, legal services, end-of-life advanced directives and other essential means to a brighter second half of life.

“The driving factor of this expo is for people to see for themselves and explore all the resources available in their region,” Ross said. “As we all know, the aging population in this area is booming and many others are planning for that approaching time. The expo provides everything they want, including social, financial and medical information, which is always the big draw for aging adults.”

In 2030, it is projected that 73 counties in N.C. will have a population in which more than 20 percent of the residents are 65 years old and older, according to the DHHS data.

“We can’t be 25 forever,” Hall said. “We have to accept the fact that our bodies do age, but at the same time, people can continue to be active. Often, they stop being active for fear of injuries, which contributes to a downward cycle.” 

The Pitt Aging Coalition counsels people on smart ways to adjust to aging that promote physical activity and prolonged health.

“You might still have a fall, but the likelihood of severe injury is much less if you are strong and more flexible,” Hall said. “We try to promote and support a graceful and positive aging process because people tend to put a negative spin on getting older. At the same time, many of the expo’s vendors provide options for when the time comes that you aren’t as independent as you once were.”

Also at the expo, Annette Eubanks, director of the Area Agency on Aging, which funnels about $500,000 in state funds for programs like the Meals on Wheels and transportation services for Pitt County’s qualified older population, said one of the agency’s concerns is the segment of the population that lives outside the metro area, often poor, isolated and unidentified.

“We reach many rural seniors through our meals program, and we have a regional advisory aging council that brings representatives from the five counties in the region, including Hertford and Bertie counties, together four or five times a year to strategize ways to reach seniors in those very rural areas where resources are very limited,” Eubanks said. 

Pitt County resident Carolyn Suggs, 68, learned about the expo through Vidant’s weekly GoldPath Seniors Program.

“I got my blood pressure checked and a flu shot here,” Suggs said. “I just talked to a lawyer who told me how to protect my home and other assets if I have to go to a nursing home. That’s very important to me. I want to learn as much as I can, and maybe I can help someone else who couldn’t be here today.”

For more information about services for the aging population, email Mary Hall at mphall@vidanthealth.com, visit the Pitt County Council on Aging at www.pittcoa.com or call 752-1717 or call Annette Eubanks at the Mid-East Commission Area Agency on Aging at 946-8043.