LIHUE — Nordic walking, tai chi and qigong are just a few of the classes on Kauai keeping kupuna balanced and on their feet.
And the list of classes through neighborhood centers and the Kauai Agency on Elderly Affairs matches the needs of Kauai’s demographics, said Janet Berreman, Kauai District Health Officer.
“It seems people prefer to age at home and fall prevention is how people can stay at home,” Berremen said.
Fall-related injuries and fatalities among Hawaii’s seniors have reached alarming levels, according to the Hawaii State Department of Health.
On average in Hawaii, 94 seniors die each year from fall-related injuries, 1,940 are hospitalized and 8,050 are taken to emergency rooms.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Kauai’s population of 65 and older is 18 percent, with the rest of the state hovering around 16 percent. DOH reports that age group is the most vulnerable to falls, and those falls result in estimated hospital bills of $120 million a year.
Because of the impact falls can have on people age 65 and older, DOH has launched a statewide fall awareness and prevention campaign that ends Aug. 30.
The campaign is aimed at empowering the elderly toward a mobile and balanced life and highlights videos and information that promote things like vision checkups, exercise, home safety and medication organization.
“We appreciate the many partners that have come together to increase awareness and prevention of falls among our seniors in Hawaii,” said Dr. Virginia Pressler, DOH director. “This is an important public health issue and we must raise awareness to prevent the tragedy and hardship that injuries from falls can bring to families in our state.”
Esti Grinpas, who teaches Nordic walking in Kapaa, said falls are a vicious cycle that generally start with muscles lacking strength.
“This gives them a tool that they can actually exercise their legs again with the safety of the poles so they don’t fall,” Grinpas said. “I’ve been teaching Nordic walking for eight years and since I’ve been working with seniors, I’ve seen the biggest benefit.”
Qigong, an exercise class offered at the Lihue Neighborhood Center, is a way to integrate balance into daily life as well, according to instructor Peter Sterne.
“The exercises and the movements make your body stand taller, make you more conscious of left and right,” he said. “It’s the exercise itself that helps the body. “
Medication review is available through pharmacists at Foodland and Safeway in Kapaa and there is no cost to schedule an appointment.
In addition to medication review, DOH recommends seniors get an annual eye exam, remove hazards and improve lighting to fall-proof the home, and get a personal electronic safety device if living alone.
“Preventing falls is an important year-round effort,” said Stan Michaels, DOH Fall Prevention coordinator. “By putting in place a few simple precautions and making basic changes to the home environment, seniors can enjoy life, fall-free.”
Hawaii’s senior fall prevention program was recognized as “the finest public awareness campaign in the nation” at the White House Conference on Aging/ 2016 NCOA National Falls Prevention Resources Conference in Alexandria, Virginia.
The DOH and the Hawaii Fall Prevention Consortium are sponsoring the campaign in collaboration with Foodland Supermarkets, Times Supermarkets, KTA Superstores, Safeway Supermarkets, Kaiser Permanente, the Hawaii Community Pharmacy Association, Project Vision Hawaii and City Mill.
Regular exercise is the key to balance and flexibility, according to DOH and the Center for Disease Control, and that also will prevent falls.