OAPs combat mental health woes in pioneering class

The Fit for Life exercise class
The Fit for Life exercise class
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CIRCUIT training with a 
difference has been hailed by experts for helping vulnerable elderly people back on to their feet in the Capital.

Community mental health physiotherapist Jackie Hodge was inspired to set up Fit for Life five years ago after 
spotting a gap in the support available for pensioners with mental health problems.

As well as encouraging social participation and helping to build self-confidence, the programme helps people with dementia, depression or anxiety to stay active and improve their balance.

The innovative scheme has scooped an award from the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland for transforming lives, as the classes have helped improve the balance of 73 per cent of participants and 90 per cent requested referrals on to a mainstream group after completing the 12-week-block.

Jackie, 48, said: “People who have cognitive impairment and dementia are eight times more likely to have a fall compared to people without dementia.

“For this group of patients, keeping active is really important. Inactivity leads to deterioration in a person’s physical condition, so an older person may become more unsteady on their feet if they are not up and about very often.

“Their confidence takes a knock and they become scared of falling, so they don’t want to go out. Then they become socially isolated which has a detrimental impact on their mental health. It’s a vicious circle.”

Many older people with mental health problems are too anxious to attend groups in the community or have such low confidence that they are worried they will not be able to take part, she said.

“Often the first hurdle is getting people in the door on day one,” she said. “About 50 per cent of participants will have dementia so often I’ll phone them up to remind them to come along. The other half will have anxiety or depression so a quick chat on the phone can also help those who are really anxious about starting something new too.”

Every class sees participants completing a circuit of exercises specifically chosen to help build strength and balance, such as using hand weights and resistance bands.

Jackie added: “It’s really amazing to see the progress, bearing in mind some participants can be in their 90s. I believe exercise can help everyone, no matter what their age.”

One of the people who has benefited from the class is 85-year-old Maja Jackson, who lives in the Southside.

The retired research 
assistant said: “I have certainly developed better balance since doing the class and I also have a lot more confidence in myself.

“I very much missed the classes when they weren’t on. I had become isolated after my husband fell ill so it really helped.”

The free classes run each week at St Peter’s Church hall, Lutton Place. The sessions are supported by volunteers.