Important Safe Falling Techniques for Elderly To Reduce Fall Injuries

By: Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

It sounds crazy right? Practicing how to fall?! But learning safe falling techniques for elderly people who are at risk of falling can reduce the chance of serious injuries. Keep reading to learn more about this important exercise.

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A popular Japanese proverb says ‘Fall down seven times, but stand up eight’. It’s great advice for the younger generations, as it teaches them resiliency.

However, it’s not so easy for seniors.

The CDC says that falls are the reason behind 1 in 5 hospital visits from seniors, 2 in 5 nursing home admissions, and the overall primary cause of all injuries in the older generations. I don’t want to tell you this, but those injuries range from broken bones to traumatic brain injuries.[1] If you’re a senior or caring for one, then you need to know about safe falling techniques for elderly people.

Fortunately, safe falling techniques do exist and are being taught. Keep reading to learn about falling safely, why you should know about it, and even where to look for such training. I promise you it’s worth it.

Why Learn How To Fall Safely?

Elliot Royce won’t likely go down in history as someone famous, but he knew how to go down when he fell. He’s a big reason why there’s growing awareness about safe falling techniques for seniors and the elderly.

Mr. Royce was as active as could be up to the age of 95, doing things like juggling while racing and working out on a trampoline. He looked for classes on how to fall safely to maintain his active lifestyle, but only found one, so he started teaching them himself.

He knew that once he started falling, he didn’t have any time at all to think about what he should do. Mr. Royce knew that someone falling had maybe a second to decide what to do, which is why instinct, training, and reflexes were so very important to develop in advance.

I don’t want to admit it, but Mr. Royce had a good point when he said that “Too many seniors have given up.” Many elderly lead sedentary lifestyles out of fear of falling, embarrassment, or even losing their dignity and independence.

senior man laying on floor after a fall
Learn your individual fall risk and adjust your lifestyle and environment and practice safe falling techniques if it is appropriate for you to do so.

The Dangers of Seniors Falling

I’m not going to shock you when I tell you that falling is a serious risk to older generations. However, why is this the case?

As our human bodies get older, we have a diminishing capacity to heal fast. This is why kids can bounce right back from falls, but adults need more time to get over it. By the time we’re seniors, we might not ever recover fully. Even a relatively minor fall might lead to fatality in certain situations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists numerous reasons why falls can be hazardous for the elderly:

  • Senior falls are the dominant reason for TBIs
  • 1 in 5 falls leads to a serious injury
  • 300,000 seniors get hospitalized annually for hip fractures
  • Falls are the cause for more than 9 in 10 of those hip fractures.
  • Over a quarter of seniors fall once a year, but far less of them actually let their own doctors know

I find that last statistic particularly troubling. Anyone who falls, regardless of age, needs to see a doctor. Medical professionals are the only ones that can rule out the possibility of a traumatic brain injuries (TBI), as some head trauma injuries don’t produce any symptoms right away, if ever.[2]

What Conditions Make You More Likely To Fall?

Lucky for us, researchers have isolated quite a few conditions that can lead to incidences of falling. Known as risk factors, you can modify or change any of them to help yourself or your loved one from falling. They include but are not limited to the following:

  • A deficiency in Vitamin D
  • Weakness in the lower body
  • Difficulty in balance and/or walking
  • Vision issues
  • Pain in feet/Improper footwear
  • Certain medications, including certain antidepressants, sedatives, tranquilizers, heart medications, and even OTCs
  • Residential hazards like uneven or broken steps, throw rugs, and clutter

Many falls happen because multiple risk factors combine at once. So, the more risk factors you have present, the more chance you have of falling.[3]

senior woman sitting on sidewalk after a fall
After learning safe falling techniques, elderly people can minimize their injuries by knowing how – and where – to land.

How To Fall Without An Injury

Sadly, many of the instinctive actions we take when we start falling mean we’re even more likely to get hurt. This is why learning safe falling practices for seniors is essential. Reactions can be trained to be smart instead of dangerous.

1. Plan Your Landing

First of all, plan to land softly. Tripping over things will happen to anyone, but you can control your fall before you hit the ground.

You should actually consider yourself the pilot of your landing. You do have a few scant seconds to guide your landing to be softer than it would be if you just leave it all up to gravity.

2. Control the Direction as You Fall

Try leaning forward into your fall if you can. That actually gives you a bit of control over your direction and you can see what’s going on better.

If at all possible, fall sideways. Also, aim for an open area and in the direction of dirt or grass instead of concrete where falls are particularly dangerous. This all reduces your chances of a nasty bump or hard collision, meaning either less injury or less serious injury.

Another thing you should do is aiming away from any individuals or objects that might cause fractures or puncture wounds.

You can swing your arms sideways as a means of directing your fall, but twist your shoulder to give your head protection. Keep your feet down and your knees bent.

Relax and Roll

Make yourself like a sack of beans by relaxing everything. If you can, fall onto soft and fleshy places like your thighs or buttocks. This protects your joints and bones, and they’re also closer to the ground.

As you finish your fall, try rolling onto one side in a ball. This spreads out your impact, minimizing injury. It also keeps you from rolling any further than you have to.[4]

RELATED: Devices to Lift Elderly Off The Floor

Video: Safe Falling Techniques for the Elderly

This video from the folks at Fearless Falling shows you many of these techniques in person.

The Rise of “Safe Falling” Classes

When Elliot Royce had to pay hundreds of dollars in airfare just to visit the only safe falling class he could find, he decided to start teaching locally on his own. He wanted to inspire other members of his generation to live fully and actively. I for one mourn his passing, but I also hope to make it to 95 and able to bounce on trampolines along the way.[1]

If you’d like to find programs available in your state or community, then the National Council on Aging has a good list you can scroll through.[5]

Having said that, you should know that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many courses have been canceled or suspended for the time being. Social distancing is necessary for everyone, but the Coronavirus is especially hard on the elderly population.

Still, YouTube can save the day, and you can visit that Fearless Falling video above to tide you over in the meantime.[6]

Final Recommendations

Preventing falls is always the best option.

Even Elliot Royce had six grab bars in his bathroom. Still, learning how to fall instills habits and reflexes that can save your health when you do eventually go down anyway.

Don’t be intimidated by having to learn or teach something new. We all fell down a lot as kids, but we kept getting up and moving. It’s a skill that just gets harder or forgotten over time, but it’s still there.

Spending time on the floor isn’t always a bad thing, either. It’s where our grandkids and great-grandkids like to play, and they’d love to have us down there with them if we can do it.

Resource Links:

The following resources were used in the research and cultivation of this content. If you want to learn more about this important subject, whether it’s to help yourself or a loved one, then I hope you’ll take the time to visit any or all of these links for more crucial information.

  1. https://www.startribune.com/95-year-old-shares-tricks-of-safe-falling/294726671/
  2. https://www.renovalleyseniorliving.com/blog/dangers-seniors-falling-7-ways-prevent-falling/
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html
  4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-fall-without-injury
  5. https://www.ncoa.org/healthy-aging/falls-prevention/falls-prevention-programs-for-older-adults-2/
  6. http://www.fearlessfalling.com/
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