Carol Cummings, RN, BSN, Expert on Aging Well

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10 January 2018

Tips for learning to fall safely

We’ve all experienced the horror and embarrassment of a nasty fall. Steps, pets and our own two feet can get the better of us when it comes to walking. Luckily, most falls don’t cause injury but that can change as we age. In fact, the CDC places falls as the leading cause of injury and death for people over 65. This startling statistic, along with the aging of the boomers, puts falls in the category of major health crisis both for older adult well-being and cost to the health care system.

While there are many things you can do to prevent a fall, at some point a fall might be inevitable. This is why many professionals are encouraging seniors to learn how to fall properly. Learning how to fall not only helps prevent injury, but it also alleviates the anxiety many seniors carry about falling.

Much like stunt performers and gymnasts, the Dutch have taken concrete steps, no pun intended, to teach older adults the best way to go down if a fall should occur. Such sessions are becoming more commonplace in the Netherlands, whose current older adult population exceeds that of the U.S. by more than four percent. The classes are so successful that the government now rates them and some health insurance carriers cover the costs.

While we can’t fly to Europe to take the class, we can still learn how to fall safely. I reached out to Maria Crescini, a Brookdale physical therapist, to get some tips on falling safely. She notes that there are a variety of causes for falls, some having to do with intrinsic factors like muscle weakness, decreased reaction time and poor balance, and some extrinsic factors like trip hazards in the home. Most falls are a combination of both.

If you feel yourself losing balance and about to fall, these are the things Crescini says you should keep in mind:

  1. Stay as calm and relaxed as possible. This can be hard to do, even for younger generations, but it will help you stay in control.
  2. Stay loose and keep your arms and legs bent, as this will help reduce bone fractures and other injuries.
  3. Protect your head as much as possible. Turn your face to the side if you are falling forward and tuck your chin if you are falling backward.
  4. Try to land on muscular parts of your body, like your upper back, thigh or buttocks.
  5. Let gravity do the work and roll into the fall. This will spread the impact throughout your body rather than one area taking the hit.

If you do fall, it is important to learn how to get up. Crescini suggests remaining calm and assessing the situation. If you are not in any pain and don’t think you are seriously injured, slowly roll on your side, turning your head in the direction you wish to roll, then get onto your hands and knees and crawl to a nearby sturdy chair. Then slowly lift yourself up and onto the chair.

If you are not able to get up, call out for help. If you are alone, slide toward a place where you can be heard by someone or consider making noises with an object within reach. Try to reach for something that will keep you comfortable, like a rug or blanket. If you are at high risk for a fall, or you fear you may lose your balance, consider getting an emergency alert system, like Life Alert.

The best advice is to be prepared. Remove any trip hazards from your home and if you are unsteady on your feet, use a walker or cane. If you are concerned about falling, talk to your physician. For older adults (and all of us), regular exercise goes a long way toward reducing risk of falling and of being injured if you do fall. Let’s all keep moving, so we can keep moving.

Be Well on Purpose.

The material presented is intended for informational purposes only and not intended as medical advice.  Please consult with a medical professional for medical advice related to this topic.


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