The Bonnie Dallas Senior Center is offering affordable and informative classes to help seniors prepare for various life needs.

Classes, offered twice a month, will cover health and fitness, nutrition and the importance of preparing a living will.

The free classes are sponsored and presented by PMS/Northwest New Mexico Hospice and Home Care.

The first classes, on Feb. 6 and Feb. 20, will teach seniors how to avoid falls by improving posture and balance, and will be taught by registered physical therapist Don Blackburn.

"As a physical therapist, I often see people who are injured in a fall, so prevention is very important," he said. "As people age, it's so important for them to stay active and exercise, and this program is an excellent way to improve posture and balance."

The March classes will be taught by Hospice social worker Brenda Atencio, with the March 6 class focusing on advanced health care directives (living wills) and powers of attorney, as well as additional steps to take in cases involving incapacitation due to illness or accident.

Atencio said preparing an advance directive is important thing for everyone.

"With the advent of modern medicine and scientific developments, people are just living much longer," she said, adding that the push for advance directives came as a result of the Terri Schiavo case.

Schiavo was a 41-year-old Florida woman who ended up in a persistent vegetative state following a cardiac arrest. Her husband wanted to remove her feeding tube but her parents opposed it.

Since Schiavo did not have a living will, the case ended up in a lengthy court battle, resulting in an order to proceed with removal of the feeding tube. Schiavo died in March, 2005.

As the Schiavo case illustrates, it's not just the elderly who need a living will, Atencio said.

"Advance directives are for everybody, and I encourage anyone over 18 to prepare an advance directive for themselves," she said.

Hospice 101 on March 20 will cover how hospice care works, who pays for hospice care, and how to pre-plan for this type of care.

Atencio, whose background is in recognizing and preventing elder abuse, said April's classes at the senior center will focus on the signs and indicators of elder abuse and what caregivers need to know if they suspect elder abuse.

"We will also be focusing on the caregiver because burnout of caregivers is a big problem," she said. "We will let caregivers know about support resources that are available for them, and will discuss placement options for the elderly."

Further to improving the health of area seniors, Judi Zeigler, the senior center's assistant senior citizen supervisor, said she is trying to bring in more fitness- and nutrition-oriented classes.

Anyone 50 and older can get a membership to the senior center's new fitness center for $20 a year, or 25 cents a day.

"It's such a good price, and we'd like to see more people using the fitness center," she said. "It's so important for seniors to do weight-bearing exercises to protect their bones."

The health and wellness classes are the first and third Wednesday of each month from 10-11 a.m. at the Bonnie Dallas Activity Center, behind the Annex at 208 Wall Street.

It is not necessary to sign up for the classes in advance. Additional classes, including Tai Chi, aerobics and dance are also offered at the center. Call the center at 505-599-1380 for information.