Note to Laughter Yoga staff: please include this youtube video, Life Call Commercial "I've fallen and I can't get up!" which is referenced in the text:
Thanks so much!
I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” was a memorable line from this commercial, which aired in the 1990‘s. In my 20’s, I thought this commercial was funny, but, after working with seniors, and experiencing my own difficulties with balance and stability, I now understand the frightening truth about falling. Seniors are facing a life-threatening epidemic - accidental falls.
This startling fact was brought to my attention while training activity directors of a local assisted living facility to be Certified Laughter Yoga Leaders. I was told the state of Minnesota has the highest rate of falls in the country and all facilities are being required by governmental agencies to keep detailed records of every accident.
Dumbfounded, I looked further. Indeed, the Minnesota Safety Council concurs: “In 2000, the Hennepin County Community Health Department released a study which found that falls were the leading cause of injury hospitalization (76 percent) and death (67 percent) among seniors age 65 and older. The Hennepin County [the largest and most densely populated county in Minnesota] senior injury death rate was among the highest in the nation.”
The issue is not limited to Minnesota, in the preliminary data for 2009, the National Vital Statistics Reports compiled and found the top causes of death to be heart disease, cancer, upper respiratory diseases, and cerebrovascular diseases. Next on the list is accidental falls.
The Centers for Disease Control is taking the problem seriously: “In the next 17 seconds, an older adult will be treated in a hospital emergency department for injuries related to a fall. In the next 30 minutes, an older adult will die from injuries sustained in a fall. Falls are the leading cause of injury among adults aged 65 years and older in the United States, and can result in severe injuries such as hip fractures and head traumas.”
The medical costs are astronomical. “As the U.S. population ages, both the number of falls and the costs to treat fall injuries are likely to increase. In 2000, falls among older adults cost the U.S. health care system over $19 billion, or $23.6 billion in 2005 dollars. Having information on the economic burden of older adult falls can help make the case to fund prevention programs and reduce overall health care costs,” says the CDC.
While there are many causes of falls among seniors, muscle weakness and walking or gait problems are the most common. A crucial area of breakdown is the core abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, hips, and lower back. When these muscles weaken, other muscles overcompensate, causing pain and difficulty with balance.
The pain or fear of pain or falling changes the way seniors live their lives. The CDC declares, “Many older adults, even if they have not suffered a fall, become afraid of falling and restrict their activity, which drastically decreases their quality of life.”
I understand about the relationship of stability to quality of life. Like a lot of seniors, I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. As a new mom, I never expected to be in pain or have difficulty walking. Following a c-section, my lower back and other muscles were screaming, making standing, sitting, sleeping or walking up and down stairs excruciating.
More than one physical therapist laid it out. I had no stability. My abdominal muscles were cut and couldn’t do their job, so other muscles stepped up to assist. Other muscles were compensating but were not designed to bear the burden of carrying a heavy baby, car seat, and more. Everything went into spasm and locked. Since it hurt to move, I changed the way I lived in the world to minimize pain, which created more pain.
The pain was debilitating, and kept me from making progress in physical therapy. After 5 years, I had accepted that I would always hurt.
Then, I found Laughter Yoga. At first, I laughed because it made me feel better emotionally. I was unable to bend forward as we do with pranayamic breathing or twist to the side when we chanted Ho Ho HaHaHa. It didn’t matter, I just did what I could.
Surprisingly, in 6 month, I had a 60% reduction in lower back pain. At 9 months, the number increased to 85%. At the 1 year mark, I was 100% lower back and pelvic pain free! I could walk, manage steps, and overall found that I was much more balanced on my feet. I could do activities such as cleaning, yard work, dancing, and playing on the jungle gym with my daughter.
Because of my experience, I have become convinced that Laughter Yoga could be an important factor in preventing falls. Here are just a few reasons for my hypothesis:
- Abdominal training stabilizes the pelvis, making walking steady.
- Endorphins augment or eliminate the need for pharmaceuticals.
- Neurotransmitters of joy will increase hope and overall mood.
As seniors begin to enjoy the short and long term benefits of ongoing, deliberate laughter, they may be able to entertain the possibility that they could enjoy a life with little or no pain. As hope returns they ought to be able to attempt activities they used to enjoy, but were forced to abandon.
My hope is that professionals and researchers who are on the front line with seniors will seize this opportunity to implement and study the significant role that Laughter Yoga could have on preventing falls. I stand ready to support any effort to advance this work. Will you join me?