Fairfield University brings important program to Spanish-speaking adults


Image: Matter of BalanceFairfield University nursing and Spanish language students are sharing their skill sets and know-how to bring an important program to older adults in Fairfield County.

The students are collaborating for the first time to teach an evidence-based program in Spanish designed to address the fear of falling and fall prevention for the older adult population. Called a 'Matter of Balance,' the classes are held at the Norwalk Senior Center South. Lessons aim to increase activity levels among older adults, and to teach exercises to improve balance and muscle strength. It's a vital endeavor. Falls are more common than strokes and can be just as serious in their consequences. They are also the most preventable cause of needing nursing home placement.

For several years, the program has been taught in English by Fairfield University's School of Nursing students and faculty in numerous area towns and cities, so the introduction of Spanish has opened it up to a whole new audience. The plan is to expand the Spanish classes to other communities in Fairfield County.

Fairfield University's School of Nursing and the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures in the College of Arts & Sciences formed a team - nursing students and Spanish interpreters - to help deliver the program, which now allows access to care for a group of seniors.

Meredith Wallace Kazer, Ph.D., CNL, APRN, FAAN, professor and dean of the School of Nursing, said, "As an Adult and Gerontological Primary Care Nurse Practitioner and Matter of Balance Master Trainer, I have witnessed, the devastating effects falls have on older adults. I am so pleased that Fairfield University's School of Nursing and the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures students are able to play such a significant role in addressing this common geriatric problem, by teaching fall prevention strategies. The decrease in falls, evidenced by the Matter of Balance program, will result in improved quality of life and lower health care costs for the rising number older adults in our area."

The eight-session, two hour a week course introduces ways you can make your home safer to ward against falls, complete with a safety checklist. Participants are also shown how to get up from a fall, good walking posture, and exercises to strengthen core body muscles.

A Spanish major and a Spanish minor were certified as Matter of Balance coaches by School of Nursing faculty Master Trainers to participate with nursing students enrolled in the 'Public Health Nursing' course, a service-learning course in which academic study is linked with community service.

"My interest is for these talented students to realize the skills they have and put them to use beyond the walls of the classroom," said Michelle Farrell, Ph.D., assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, who has coordinated the Norwalk classes with Jessica Planas, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing; Geraldine M. Chalykoff, Ph.D., RN, assistant professor of nursing; and Kathleen Lovanio, MSN, APRN, professor of the practice. "The point for this is for both nursing student and Spanish student to truly collaborate, recognizing the importance of both groups while working towards the Jesuit mission of social justice."

The collaboration between nursing and Modern Languages speaks to Fairfield University's heightened focus on inter-professional education (IPE). "It refers to occasions when students from two or more professions in health and social care learn together during all or part of their professional training with the goal of cultivating collaborative practice and for providing client/patient centered health care," said Lovanio.

Eric English, a nursing student in the Second Degree Program, said, "The two Spanish students working as coaches and interpreters make a huge impact on the experience both for the participants and us. The participants appreciate having young, energetic, friendly, competent Spanish speakers there."

At first, Cindy Cook '15, a Spanish and Computer Science double major, was nervous because she didn't know much about medical terms and nursing. But she has loved being around the seniors so much that she plans to volunteer at the center after 'Matter of Balance' concludes. "I think Spanish language students have made a huge difference," Cook said. "Spanish is such an important language that I would suggest to anyone to try to learn it. Overall, I think speaking Spanish is very crucial!"

Lynn Babington, Ph.D., RN, senior vice president of academic affairs at Fairfield, observed, "When students from different disciplines work together on projects, either in the classroom or in the community, not only do they learn from each other, but they are able to combine their knowledge and expertise to do amazing work. That is what education at Fairfield University is all about - purposely providing interdisciplinary opportunities for students where they have the opportunity to learn from each other."

For more information about Fairfield University, visit www.fairfield.edu.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on July 1, 2014

Vol. 46, No.