Mercy Regional Medical Center is offering a class to help people preserve and regain their strength and balance.
“Six Weeks to Better Balance and a Stronger Self,” a 12-session course, is designed to keep participants active and reduce the risk of fall-related injuries. The cost is $150.
Trainer Martin Johnson said the class cycle has six to eight members. Though sometimes filled with people of all ages, the sessions are usually attended by seniors older than 65 who are at risk of falling.
“We’re trying to target the population of folks who recognize they might need some help with general strength and stability but who are not a clinical risk of hurting themselves,” Johnson said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four seniors fall each year, which can open the door to more serious injuries.
The issue is not uncommon in La Plata County.
Scott Sholes, Emergency Medical Services captain for the Durango Fire Protection District, said people 65 and older who fall less than 10 feet account for about 11 percent of the department’s total calls in a year.
In 2015, Sholes said the department responded to 157 incidents, which mostly occur in residences or public places, such as on sidewalks or in stores and parking lots.
This year, Sholes said it’s likely the department will hit that average response number. Already to date, there have been 116 incidents, and with colder temperatures coming, that number is expected to rise.
For older populations, falling can be detrimental, he said.
“We often say that a bad injury (from a fall) can be life-threatening, and definitely in those older age groups for a number of reasons,” Sholes said. “It all has to do with secondary illnesses and complications that come from immobility.”
As a result, several health centers and sports gyms around La Plata County offer classes to help build up strength and balance.
The Durango Sports Club and the Durango/La Plata Senior Center host classes that are geared toward the issue, though those centers did not return requests for comment for this story.
Ann Camp, facility operations supervisor for the Durango Community Recreation Center, said a number of courses for seniors, including tai chi; yoga; fitness classes; and a balance, core and stretch class, are well-attended week to week.
At Mercy, Johnson said the class also offers a social, low-pressure, safe environment for seniors looking to reduce anxiety about falling, while at the same time giving them confidence.
“It’s all been really good so far,” said Sharon Hamer, who is just coming off knee-replacement surgery. “I’m halfway through the course, and I definitely feel the improvement.”
Class-goers are asked to perform a variety of balancing exercises and stretches. Each week gets a little more challenging, and eventually, Johnson said he can see the improvement.
“I can do a lot that I couldn’t do before taking this class,” said Jacque Kemple, who has three fusions in her back and six screws in her knees. “Now, I need to exercise at home or I can’t move.”
Around the country, the risk of seniors falling is real, and the statistics are alarming.
In 2014, the CDC reported that out of more than 46 million adults older than 65, about 29 million experienced a fall, resulting in injuries to 7 million seniors.
And with the growing rate of adults older than 65, in 2030, the CDC projects that out of 74 million people in that age bracket, 49 million will fall, resulting in 12 million injuries.
Johnson’s class and others hope to slow that rate, step by step.
“Durango has such an incredible population of people who come here to be active in retirement,” Johnson said. “And it’s been proven: Regular exercise slows down the aging process.”