Teaching the Elderly How to Fall

A couple of years ago I wrote about how prevalent a fear of falling is among the elderly, since the consequences of a fall can be devastating.

Data shows that about 40 percent of those aged 65 and older fall at least once a year; one in 40 of them ends up in the hospital, after which only half are still alive a year later. Put another way, out of 200 people over the age of 65, 80 of those individuals will fall at least once per year. Out of those 80, 2 of them will be hospitalized, and only one of them will still be alive a year later.

In my post, I offered some suggestions as to how to improve one’s balance in order to become more confident and less fearful of falling. But a recent New York Times article tells about a great program in the Netherlands that teaches the elderly not only how to improve their balance, but the proper way to fall if they do.

Using names like the “Belgian sidewalk,” a wooden contraption designed to simulate loose tiles; “sloping slope,” a ramp angled at an ankle-unfriendly 45 degrees; and others like “the slalom” and “the pirouette, the program converts a gymnasium into an obstacle course clinically devised to teach the elderly how to navigate treacherous ground.

Here’s a video showing the class in action:

The course meets twice a week. On Tuesdays, the students build confidence by walking and re-walking the obstacle course. Thursdays are reserved for the actual falls.

In order to learn, the students start by approaching the mats slowly, lowering themselves down at first. Over the weeks, they learn to fall.

Here’s a video of part of the falling technique:

Hundreds of similar courses are taught by registered by physio- and occupational therapists across the Netherlands. Virtually unheard-of just a decade ago, the courses are now common enough that the government rates them. Certain forms of Dutch health insurance even cover part of the costs.

There is also a very important social aspect; seeing one another helplessly sprawled across the gym mats gave way to giggling and plenty of dry comments, knowing jokes, general ribbing and hilarity.

This sounds like a great program; I am not aware of any in the U.S., but if there are currently not any, I am sure there will be after reading the New York Times story, and that is a good thing.

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