It’s winter, and once again we are confronted with older citizens with black eyes and broken hips due to accidental falls.

One of our friends has a black eye right now, and just this past week, a 95-year-old woman made the decision to reside at the Lincoln Home after taking a nasty fall. Fortunately, she only received a severely blackened eye, but no other injuries.

A personal friend fell on her shoulder and fractured her clavicle just a few days ago. Odds are that you know someone who has taken a hazardous fall. It is so common that we accept it as a normal part of aging.

But does it have to be?

The AARP says that falls are the number one cause of injury, and the number one cause of death by injury, for older Americans. A perfectly healthy older person can have their life radically altered by even a relatively simple fall. This is why we return to the subject of fall prevention periodically.

It is also why in our own lives in our mid-to-late 60s that we focus on keeping our bodies strong in ways that will help us maintain better balance as we age. It is not that all falls can be prevented. However, any individual can lessen their risk of falling through relatively simple exercises.

The national statistics are horrifying and seem crazily unbelievable. The CDC reports that each year 1 in 3 people over age 62 will fall, and 50 percent of people over age 70 will fall. The numbers of critical accidental falls is increasing each year because nationally each day we have 10,000 people reaching age 65.

In Maine, about a sixth of our population is seniors, and our rate of serious injuries and deaths caused by falls has been sharply on the rise since 2000.

The good news is that opportunities for retirees to participate in exercise classes is also on the rise. Take a visit to the Bath YMCA during the mid-morning to early afternoon and you may see older members playing pickle ball, doing weight training, and in classes with exercises specifically geared to increase those muscles that control balance and keep reflexes just a little more quick to respond. The same is true with the Central Lincoln County YMCA in Damariscotta, the Boothbay Y, and the Landing Y in Brunswick, and Casco Bay Y in Freeport. The mid-day is when our generation rules these places!

It is important to note these folks aren’t just toiling away. They are having fun with old friends and making new friends in these classes.

Dr. Marilyn Gugliucci is a professor and the director of geriatric education and research at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. She teaches that our society holds dysfunctional views on aging, and that consequently our culture is limited by these beliefs. One set of limiting beliefs is the belief we simply get too old to benefit from exercise.

This is simply not true. Virtually any older person can benefit from exercise as long as they are willing to exercise. Marilyn created a program called “Balancing Act,” that is one part of a larger senior health and wellness program that they teach at hospitals and senior retirement communities in southern and coastal Maine.

Follow this link to Balancing Act instructional videos that you can do at home or with a friend

This is a link to an abridged large-print version of the Balancing Act instruction booklet, which is very clearly written with photographs of Marilyn demonstrating the exercises

Friends, falls can happen to any of us, young or old. But even as we age and enter our very late aging years, we can benefit from exercises to improve our balance and strength. A surprisingly modest amount of exercise can make definite improvements. It just takes your willingness to try. There are opportunities for exercise appropriate to your current level of conditioning everywhere.

In the senior care business, we know you can’t completely eliminate falls, but in what we refer to as “harm reduction,” you can definitely increase your odds for avoiding injuries caused by falling.

Jill Wallace is the owner and director of Elm Street Assisted Living in Topsham. Steve Raymond is director of community outreach at the Lincoln Home in Newcastle, and the producer and host of the television show “Spotlight on Seniors.”

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