Native Elders are becoming “WELL-Balanced”

Have you heard about the SEARHC WELL-Balanced (Wise Elders Living Longer) program? WELL-Balanced is a group program designed by the University of North Dakota in partnership with the National Resource Center on Native American Aging. The program uses exercise, information, and social interaction to help elders remain active and independent in their own homes as long as possible. It is designed to help elders:

  1. Prevent falls
  2.  Manage diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension
  3. Engage in social activity
  4.  Increase their level of exercise
  5. Develop strategies for independent living
  6.  And have fun 

Falling is the most common and serious risk facing Native elders. The fear of falling can cause elders to limit their activity, which may lead to an eventual decline in their strength and balancing abilities, which in turn leads to falling. The WELL-Balanced program was designed to improve the elders ability to balance, increase their strength and endurance, and to understand and identify any risks for falling.

Fifty-nine elders from Angoon, Kake, Klawock and Sitka have successfully graduated from the 16-class program, which meets twice a week for 8-weeks. Each elder is given both a pre and post assessment which measures the elders’ balance abilities using the Modified Fullerton Advanced Balance Scale and a fitness test to measure their endurance and strength. The classes help elders regain their balance with sitting, standing and walking exercises, and to improve their overall fitness with endurance and strength workouts. Our hope is to continue the program in those four communities, and begin offering it in every location SEARHC serves.


The WELL-Balanced program has seen great success, with all participants showing improvement in at least four out of seven measures assessed. One example of marked progress was a participant in Angoon who was dependent on crutches, but during the post-assessment was able to put the crutches down periodically and instead use a cane. Another participant in Kake who used a cane regularly, at the beginning of the class, was able to forgo the use of it altogether. Other successes came in the form of a 75-percent improvement in individual screening values, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels.

In order for the program to be sustainable in the areas where it has been held previously and to expand it to other communities, SEARHC is currently looking for volunteers who are willing to be trained to teach the 8-week, 16-session course. The course includes a home safety assessment, fall risk screening and a home program for use after the course is completed.

Not only are individuals needed as volunteer coaches, but facilities are needed to hold the classes. Businesses, community centers, and schools are perfect places to hold these classes and we’re asking to use available space so classes can be offered to participants at no cost. 

For more information on becoming involved in the WELL-Balanced program, contact Cory Welsh at 966-8866 or email