Falls are the single greatest risk to older Alaskans’ health, independence and quality of life. In Alaska, an estimated one-third of seniors over the age of 65 and half of those over the age of 80 will fall each year. Falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma and injury deaths among older adults. Hip fractures are the leading fall-related injury that results in hospitalization and loss of independence.
Although people are especially concerned about falling this time of year due to outdoor conditions and are wise to take precautions, most falls actually occur in one’s own home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends four things an individual can do to reduce his or her chances of falling: Begin a regular exercise program; have your health care provider review your medicines; have your vision checked; and make your home safer. Free informational brochures on how to prevent falls are available online at www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls.
The Tai Chi system of exercise has been shown to prevent falls in older adults. Tai Chi Chuan, often shortened to Tai Chi, began as a Chinese martial art and evolved into a series of fluid movements that relax and stimulate the body and mind. Research suggests that Tai Chi may offer many health benefits that include reduced stress, anxiety and depression; improved flexibility, strength, balance and coordination that lead to fewer falls; improved sleep; reduced bone loss; lower blood pressure; better cardiovascular fitness; relief of chronic pain and stiffness; and higher immunity to shingles. Tai Chi can help with conditions of osteoporosis, fibromyalgia symptoms, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Tai Chi helps improve awareness, calmness and one’s overall sense of well being.
Tai Chi (pronounced tie-chee) is based on chi, vital energy that is believed to flow throughout the body and regulate a person’s physical, spiritual, emotional and mental balance. A person doing Tai Chi progresses slowly and gracefully through a series of movements while breathing deeply and meditating. Anyone can learn, and benefit from, Tai Chi. Tai Chi classes are lead by a certified instructor who has been trained in teaching Tai Chi. Tai Chi is very safe and no special clothing or equipment is needed.
Beginning Jan. 7, free Tai Chi classes will be available in Juneau for anyone age 60 or older, thanks to a recent grant from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. There are a limited number of spaces available in the class, so those who are interested should call Carol Comolli, Manager of the Juneau Senior Center, at 463-6175 to register. Students will be registered for the class on a first come, first served basis.
During the ten-week series, classes will take place every Monday and Thursday morning at 10 a.m. at the Filipino Community Hall located at 251 South Franklin Street. Each week, instructor Glen Ray will teach one of the basic Tai Chi movements. Learning Tai Chi is like learning to dance because the movements flow gently from one to another. The first week, Glen will assist each student in setting personal health goals, such as better balance, the key element to preventing a fall.
Falls are not an inevitable part of life, even as one gets older. Taking action to prevent falls is powerful. In turn, getting rid of the fear of falling can help people stay active, maintain their physical health and prevent future falls.
• Marianne Mills is the Program Director of Southeast Senior Services (SESS) which offers a variety of home and community-based services for older Alaskans throughout Southeast Alaska. SESS is a program division of Catholic Community Service which assists all persons regardless of their faith.