Gator Balance Class: Fostering progress in students and participants

DPT student helping seniors at Community Health work on their balanceThe cycle of Community Health is one of progress and mentorship at the Alachua County Senior Recreation Center. Each semester brings new opportunities and accomplishments. The community participants are always eager to improve their balance while assisting in the development of DPT students, while students are eager to engage with the community through practicing their fall risk screenings and leading the balance classes.

During the fall semester, second-year DPT students conducted the Gator Balance Classes (GBC) while first-year students primarily observed, followed directives, and asked questions. This peer-to-peer mentorship program provides the students with rich learning and leadership opportunities. This spring, the first-year students transitioned into leadership roles and are beginning to conduct the GBC as the second-year students move off-campus to begin their full-time clinical education experiences.

“I am really excited to shake things up with the Gator Balance Class this year,” said Taylor Wood, a first-year DPT student and co-director of the program. “Our REACH group as a whole this year is really motivated and present during the class, so the participants can learn and have fun, while always being safe.”

The evidence-based balance classes consist of several components: screenings, warm-up, strength, power, endurance, and ending with a cool down that includes Tai Chi. Prior to starting the class, the students take vital signs and complete fall risk screenings to ensure all participants are able to take part in the class. These screenings include the timed up and go, 30-second sit to stand, and a four stage balance test. The students record the participants’ results and rescreen them prior to each class to assess for improvement.

The GBC provide mentorship for both the first and second year students, allowing each group to practice taking vitals, building relationships, performing balance screenings, and expanding observational skills. Both groups of students also cultivate their leadership skills in overseeing the planning and operations of the GBCs under the leadership of Judi Schack-Dugré, PT, PhD, MBA, DPT, clinical assistant professor and faculty mentor to the program.

Through the GBCs, students learn how to refine their observational skills, apply modification strategies to gait and balance exercises, whether it be to increase or decrease vigor, which is a necessary skill when working with the geriatric population. The second-year students also benefit from mentoring the newer first-year students in communications skills, participant history-taking, and guarding tactics during ambulation and functional activities.

“It is a win-win-win,” said Dr. Schack-Dugré. “GBCs are a valued by both the Alachua County senior community and the UF DPT program.”