Fall Reduction Training Keeps You Safe at Home and in the Community

Jim Denham standing in front of a table at which several women are seated
Jim Denham presenting at a Stepping On class at Capitol Lakes retirement community in Madison

Falls are one of the leading causes of injury, and even death, in Wisconsin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Wisconsin had the highest fall death rate among older adults in the United States in 2021.

But many falls can be prevented. Fall reduction classes across the state can provide skills and strategies to keep you safe both at home and out in the community. Whether you’re experiencing vision loss, have a physical limitation or disability, or are even just falling more than you used to, fall reduction trainings are specially designed to help keep you on your feet.

“It’s about being situationally aware,” says Amy Wurf, Education and Vision Services Director at the Council. “Don’t take things for granted…like when you’re on vacation or at a hotel, think about planning ahead a couple of extra steps.”

Fall reduction training is not just about being safe. It’s also about building your confidence. “If someone went outside and they slipped and fell while walking around the block, they are going to be less likely to go out for a walk next time,” Amy says. “Fall reduction helps look for ways to get that confidence and comfort back so that they can stay mobile and active.”

There are a variety of fall reduction training programs across the state. One such program is Stepping On from the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging (WIHA). Stepping On is a seven-week evidence-based program in which trained facilitators present a new topic each session. In addition to building strength and balance, Stepping On also covers factors that can increase your risk of falling, such as footwear choices and side effects from medication, and teaches participants how to minimize those risks.

Stepping On brings in a variety of speakers. They may include podiatrists talking about shoes; police officers discussing walking in your neighborhoods; and members of the Council’s Vision Services team discussing fall risks related to vision.

When someone from the Vision Services team gives a presentation at Stepping On, one topic they will cover is how contrast plays a role in safe mobility. “As we age, our ability to distinguish contrasts fades,” Amy says. “When you walk into a library, for example, and the carpet is close to the same color as the chairs, it’s easy to bump into or trip over a chair. It’s not that you’re clumsy; it’s that the contrast isn’t very good, and you aren’t seeing it.”

One thing Amy particularly likes about Stepping On is the participation. Sessions often begin with short, easy warmup exercises to help build physical strength and balance. When the discussions begin, they are just that—discussions rather than lectures.

“It all feels very empowering, and there’s a huge sense of involvement,” Amy says. “People aren’t just sitting there taking notes and listening. They’re actually participating.”

Stepping On holds regular workshops across the state. You can learn more about the program on the WIHA website.

Stepping On workshops are all in-person events. If you are unable to attend an in-person training, there are other options available. In Dane County, the Safe at Home program from Age Better will send an occupational therapist to where you live to give you a free home and prescription assessment. Safe at Home is a collaboration between the UW-Madison Occupational Therapy program, the Madison College Occupational Therapy Assistant program, and Dane County Human Services.

With each Safe at Home assessment, you will receive an Intervention Recommendations list that outlines what you can do to stay safe, along with a folder with information about fall prevention, medication safety and community resources. They also provide a free night light. Safe at Home will then make follow-up calls to ensure that you understand their recommendations and to connect you to local services and resources.

To find other fall reduction programs in your area, reach out to State of Wisconsin’s Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired (OBVI) or your local Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC). You can reach the state OBVI office at 888-879-0017 or by email at dhsobvi@dhs.wisconsin.gov. You can find your local ADRC on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website.

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