Seniors learn how not to fall

Babies learning to walk, fall down, get up, fall again and usually accept it as part of the process. Seventy or 80 years later, falling can be treacherous.

At The Greens at Cannondale’s last session of the spring Community Health Series, Frank DeRubeis Jr. and Michael Kuo, physical therapists at Fox Rehab, went over everything possibly related to falling, starting with a definition: “A fall is any lowering unintentionally to the ground.”

The key word is “unintentionally.” Most people do not intend to fall. Many physicians tell their patients, “Falling is part of the aging process.” Mr. DeRubeis and Mr. Kuo said this was untrue.

Fox Rehab’s mission is to restore optimal function, helping people achieve physically what they may have thought impossible. Mr. DeRubeis told the true story of a 102-year-old patient who found walking and moving around difficult. After physical therapy, he was able to hit 40 golf balls.

What often interferes with motion is the pain of an injury caused by a fall. That’s why prevention is so important.

Eighty percent of falls happen at home, so we’ve all been told time and again to survey our homes for hazards: throw rugs, wires, things left on stairways, pets.

Muscle weakness can be caused by medications. Falling and fatigue can be caused by incorrect shoes. When the injury is a fractured hip, the prognosis isn’t good. For older people, a fractured hip can put a patient in a wheelchair. Or worse.

So if you do fall, fall correctly. Mr. DeRubeis and Mr. Kuo demonstrated how to fall.

“If you can, try to fall on your side. If you have time to wonder which part of yourself you’re going to injure, always try to protect your head.”

How do you get up after a fall? Mr. DeRubeis explained how. “Try to get down on all fours,” he said. “Push up your strongest knee, lean forward. If there’s something stable nearby that you can grab onto, do that. If there’s nothing nearby, lean forward on your strongest knee and push your hands down to help get you up.”

One of the most successful ways to prevent falling is exercise. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Simple stretches, standing or sitting on a chair, raising arms and stepping up and down is useful. Be aware of your posture, chest out, shoulders back. Standing on one leg at a time will improve balance. Hold onto something if you have to. The idea is to keep moving to strengthen your entire body. The muscles of sedentary people, at any age, will weaken and become passive.

Therapists from Fox Rehab are at The Greens regularly for residents. Fox also makes house calls. Its slogan is “Reclaim Your life.”

Falls are preventable. Walk slowly but walk as much as you can. Do exercises sitting down if necessary, but keep moving. And remember to breathe!