By Dennis Jinnohara
Falls are the leading cause of injuries for older Americans. Falls generate enormous economic and personal costs and threaten seniors’ safety and independence. Awareness and lifestyle adjustments can reduce the number of falls and the potential for significant injury.
Learning how to fall safely is important for older adults. Safe falling means falling to protect your head from injury or to prevent or reduce significant injury such as broken hips, pelvis, arms or shoulder. Falling is not an inevitable result of aging.
However, consider a few importation statistics: one in three seniors will fall each year. One out of five falls will result in a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury. Every 11 seconds a senior is seen in an emergency room for a fall-related injury. Every 19 minutes a senior will die from a fall.
More than 2.8 million fall injuries are treated in emergency rooms annually, including more than 800,000 hospitalizations. In 2018, The National Center for Health Statistics reported 67,961 unintentional injury deaths among seniors in the U.S. More than 52%, or 34,097, of those deaths were fall-related. Motor vehicle related deaths accounted for the second most with 15%, or 10,327.
The safest fall is the fall that never happens. To reduce the risk of falling, our prevention formula is all about learning the ABCs: awareness, balance and control.
Be aware of your environment and what you are doing. Scan for potential hazards and avoid them. Be aware and focus when walking, and make sure to lift your legs as you walk. Develop a different mindset by walking heel to toe, landing on your heel and pushing off with your toes.
Train your brain and your body to get better balance. Take classes that can improve your balance such as tai chi, balance exercises, yoga, strength training, flexibility training and core training. If you have a minute in the day, practice simple balance movements while you have the time.
Control your environment to ensure safety. Take the safer path even if it takes longer and use handrails wherever available. If you have not added handrails in your home, consider doing so.
Remove anything that can lead to tripping or falling, including loose rugs and items that block mobility in hallways or on the floor.
If or when you do fall, here are some tips to fall safely.
• Do not brace with your hands. Control the fall; don’t let the fall control you.
• Put your hands up to protect your face.
• Lower your hips, getting as close to the ground as possible.
• Reach for the ground with one hand extended in front of the other and your head tucked in or chin pulled to your chest.
• Extend your arms and slide forward, lowering your hip and rotating.
• Contact the ground with the side of your calf, thigh and then buttocks to the ground, and turn.
The writer is a Northern Virginia-trained instructor at Kupuna Aikido, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit organization incorporated in the State of Hawaii. Additional information is available at www.kupunaaikido.org.