By Jan Engoren
We’ve all heard about the commercial that shows a woman stretched out on the floor crying, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” The probability of falling is real, especially for people 65 and older.
In Palm Beach County, falls are the leading cause of traumatic injury, with Health Care District data showing the number of people who fell and were treated within the county’s trauma system rising 145% in the past 12 years, from 1,048 in 2010 to 2,572 last year.
In response, the Health Care District secured a $1 million, one-year grant, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, to spearhead a proactive approach toward fall prevention.
In September, the district began offering free “Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance” classes at the South County Civic Center in Delray Beach.
One of the first to sign up was Delray Beach resident Toby Koritsky, 71, a retired educator. With two hip replacements and two knee replacements, she wants to improve her strength and balance. Koritsky was not looking for strenuous exercise and found exercise DVDs too intense.
“This is just what I need,” she says. “It’s every day at 8:30 a.m. and gets me up and going.”
This Tai Ji Quan regimen was developed for older adults by Fuzhong Li of the Oregon Research Institute.
Diane Lundstedt, 67, of Lake Worth Beach, instructs the South County class. She says this regimen takes the focus away from the core and puts emphasis on hips and feet — the first defense against falling.
The eight forms of movement include weight-shifting exercises, reaching exercises, finger mobility, spatial awareness, pushing and pulling, and turning, all geared to prevent a loss of balance.
Routines can be modified to include sitting and geared to an individual’s level.
Practicing this routine for 10 years has helped Lundstedt become more aware of her body, made her stronger and able to center herself if she feels at risk of falling.
Lundstedt says a core group of 14-18 people comes to class and she expects more as snowbirds arrive.
Koritsky says she has learned how to shift her weight from side to side and to be conscious of her feet on the ground, which can help prevent loss of balance.
Koritsky, who has diabetes, says she is beginning to have neuropathy in her feet, another cause of concern. In 2019 while at synagogue, she fell and fractured her shoulder.
She’s encouraged by the techniques she’s learning.
“It’s slow-moving, but good exercise, which I like,” she says. “I found what works for me.”
Tips to prevent falls include enrolling in a balance and exercise program to improve balance, strength and flexibility; asking for a risk assessment from your health care provider; reviewing your medications with the provider to make sure dosages are correct; having your vision and hearing checked and ensuring your eyeglass prescription is up to date; fall-proofing your home to remove area rugs that may slip, installing grab bars in the bathroom or where needed, and ensuring your home is well-lit.
“Falls are a serious health concern,” says Darcy Davis, CEO for the Health Care District. “Not only can falls cause serious injury, but they also contribute to many in our community losing their independence.
“With this free program for all ages, the Health Care District and our partners strive to decrease falls in Palm Beach County through proactive collaboration, education and prevention,” she says.
The district is looking to partner with other locations to host classes in the county and is offering free “train the trainer” courses to prospective instructors, with an eye on expanding class offerings.
The district also will create a fall-prevention video series that will serve the community after the conclusion of the grant.
For Koritsky, she hopes learning these balance techniques and improving her strength will allow her to feel less afraid about falling.
“These movements are great for anyone looking to increase stability and build strength,” she says.
They have enabled her to go longer, farther and with less fear of falling when she walks Abu, her 11-year-old Shih Tzu.
Classes are held weekdays from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the South County Civic Center, 16700 S. Jog Road, Delray Beach, and are open to all. For more information, see www.hcdpbc.org/for-patients/trauma-system/education-and-prevention/falls-awareness.
Jan Engoren writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.