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Learning how to fall in order to remain independent

For older Americans, falls are a leading cause of death. Falling becomes a serious concern as early as the 70s when bones start to become more brittle. Broken bones also take longer to heal. A fall can become the triggering event that leads to a loved one’s ultimate decline.

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Americans suffered seven million fall injuries, approximately 27,000 were fatal. The agency began an initiative, Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries (STEADI) to focus attention among healthcare providers on fall prevention. In this post, we discuss falling classes that are becoming routine in the Netherlands.

Being afraid of falling actually places you at a higher risk of falling

In gyms across the Netherlands, students from ages 65 to 94 are putting aside their fears of falling. The courses combine obstacle courses with falling drills to improve the confidence of seniors (those over age 65 made up only about 8 percent in 1950, but today are 18.5 percent of the population).

As the New York Times reports these types of courses are relatively new and come with catchy names like “falling is in the past.” Some Dutch health insurance even covers part of the class cost.

Students come from a range of abilities. Some are still biking to the course in their mid 80s, while others were dependent on walkers and canes or carefully guided by relatives. The courses are in part related to the number of fall-related deaths increasing 38 percent over the past two years in the Netherlands. In addition to the overall aging of the population, some of the causes include inactivity and certain medications.

Simple and effective home modifications

For seniors who live independently, minor home modifications can reduce the risk of falling during a daily routine. Some of these include:

  • Installing hand grips in key locations
  • Adding ramps and checking to remove trip hazards at transitions between flooring or rooms
  • Getting a stationary exercise bicycle, treadmill (for indoor walking especially during the winter months) or weight machine as a visual reminder to keep moving and focus on strength and flexibility

It is always difficult to consider leaving a home, but assisted living or skilled nursing options may become necessary at a certain point. Seeking counsel from an elder law attorney can smooth this process for a family.

Even if a specific course on falling in not available in a Colorado community, there are likely resources that might provide assistance staying independent. Various types of martial arts are low impact and can improve balance. Another tip from a Netherlands course instructor: instead of standing on one leg to put on your pants, sit down.

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