During World War II Roberta Leveaux spent much of her time in the driver's seat of British fighter planes. Her job was to deliver new planes to airbases and retrieve damaged planes that were still able to fly. Nearly 60 years later Roberta is almost as active, working out regularly thanks to the THINK FIRST CONNECTIONS program at Oregon Health & Science University. For the fifth year in a row, the program is pairing two groups at high risk for head and spinal cord injuries -- teen-agers and senior citizens.
During a six-week period the teens and seniors pair up twice a week to learn three different ways to avoid injury.
• Fitness training by a certified fitness instructor -- Teen-agers assist their senior partners and provide encouragement. This improves the participants' strength and overall fitness. Benefits include maintaining independence in older age, and decreasing the impact and likelihood of injury.
• Teen-taught computer training -- Teen-agers teach their senior partners how to use a computer. This includes e-mail training to keep seniors in touch with family and friends. Elder participants also learn how to use the internet from their teen partners.
• Group-building activities -- Both teens and seniors often feel isolated and disconnected. Team-building behavior between these two groups has been shown to fulfill individual needs, and decrease feelings of isolation and depression. In addition, group-building exercises tend to keep teen-agers from participating in risk-taking behaviors.
For Roberta, exercise is one of the most important components of the program. During the past few years she has broken both hips. "When I started this program, I looked like a plucked chicken. I love pumping iron!" Roberta adds that since she started working out regularly, it's easier for her to get around and lift her walker into her car.
According to Roberta's teenage partner Rachel Hipsher, there are plenty of benefits for the teens too. " I live far away from my grandparents and I really enjoy being with and talking to people in that age group." Rachel has taken part in the program for the past two sessions.
THINK FIRST is a national, nonprofit organization founded by neurosurgeons across the country. The mission of THINK FIRST is to educate young people about the prevention of brain and spinal cord injuries. Oregon's chapter is under the supervision of neurosurgeon Edward Neuwelt, M.D., professor of neurology and neurosurgery in OHSU's School of Medicine. In addition to THINK FIRST CONNECTIONS, the program runs additional injury prevention programs for students and educators across the state. These programs reach Oregon children from first through 12th grades.