Bend, twist and roll – that’s the secret to safe falling.

ELLIOTT Royce estimates that he has fallen down at least 15,000 times over the past 10 years.

Royce, who turns 96 next month, falls on purpose at least five times every morning. “It’s part of my morning routine,” he said. “Just like shaving and brushing my teeth. I pull my air mattress out of the closet and practise safe falls.”

He does not just practise; he preaches, too. He goes to assisted living centres, senior centres and community centres to talk about how to prevent serious injuries if you take a tumble. He offers himself as proof of how important it is for everyone – especially seniors – to learn the technique.

“I have macular degeneration. I don’t have any depth perception,” he said. “But I’m an outdoors guy; I can’t sit in my apartment all day because I’m afraid to leave it.”

In the past decade or so, Royce has taken “seven real falls and has never gotten hurt,” he said. “Sure, I got bruised, and I ended up with some aches and pains, but I didn’t get any broken bones.”

That’s partly because he takes practice falls every day so that he’ll react instinctively should he lose his balance.

Falls in Elderly: Falling Properly

“Once you start to fall, you don’t have time to think about what to do,” he said. “You’re going to have about one second to figure it out, so you better have some plans.”

Lest there be any doubt, Royce is not your typical 95-year-old. “Too many seniors have given up,” he chides. Not him. For starters, he takes an hour-long trampoline class three times a week.

“He came in here three-and-a-half years ago and said his goal was to still be on the trampoline when he turns 100,” said Pat Henderson, his coach and the owner of Minnesota Twisters in Edina, Minnesota.

“I’ve always been an active person,” said Royce, who ran a health and beauty wholesale business until he retired in his mid-70s. “I’m not a couch potato.”

Daughter Cindy Royce confirmed that assessment. The family has long gotten used to him announcing his next conquest.

“It’s always something,” she said. “He started playing the viola da gamba – the baroque cello. And then he decided that he wanted to learn how to juggle. He even entered a race where you had to go a mile while juggling.”

Her father chimed in with a laugh: “I was the last one to finish, but I won for my age division – because I was the only one in it.”

Even while poking fun at himself, he exudes a can-do attitude.

In addition to being good exercise, the trampoline training dovetails nicely with his safe-falling programme.

“It works his core muscles and sharpens his body awareness and control,” Henderson said.

Not to mention honing his sense of balance: “If you can learn to walk on an unsteady surface like a trampoline, you can walk on anything,” Royce said.

But one of the trampoline’s biggest payoffs is that it got him used to falling. “It’s the fear of falling that makes people stick out their arms to try to catch themselves, and that’s what causes the broken wrists and arms,” he said. “The more you fall, the more you overcome the fear of falling.”

Three things to remember:

“The secret to falling safely is three words: bend, twist, roll,” he said.

As you start to fall, bend your knees in the direction you are falling and twist at the waist, turning your shoulders away from the fall. That will change the point of impact.

Instead of one spot on your hip taking the entire brunt of the fall, the force will be spread out along the length of your leg, thigh and pelvis. When you hit the ground, roll to further dissipate the force of the impact.

That’s what he practises each morning by standing next to an air mattress and falling onto it. He advises beginners to start from their knees until they’re comfortable with the “roll” part of the procedure. It also will help them regain comfort with being on the floor.

“Most seniors haven’t been on the floor for 10 years,” he said. “Seniors think the floor is scary. It’s not. Watch kids; they sit on the floor all the time.”

NEXT: Watch how to fall properly and how to get up safely after a fall

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury among people 65 and older. Those injuries include broken bones (hips, arms, legs, hands and spines), as well as being the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries in seniors.

Royce became aware of these statistics when he moved into a senior living facility 10 years ago.

“I learned right away that people fall in a senior home, and then the 911 truck has to come help pick them up,” he said. “I figured, as long as I’m going to fall, why not learn how not to get hurt?”

He searched the Internet for a class on falling but couldn’t find one.

He eventually stumbled on a gymnastics school in Hawaii that offered a week-long class covering various aspects of tumbling, including how to fall without getting hurt.

Despite all the time he spends practising falling, the best way to avoid an injury from falling is not to fall in the first place, he said. He devotes much of his presentations to lecturing on preventing falls. He’s very big on grab bars.

“When I moved into my new apartment, there was one grab bar in the bathroom,” he said. “Now there are six. Any place you are going to stand for a while – by the sink to brush your teeth, for instance – put in a grab bar.”

He also suggests that men sit down on the toilet to urinate. “Nobody wants to talk about this, but why do we have to be so macho and insist on standing?” he said.

“As we get older, standing gets harder.” He added with a wink: “And if we sit, our wives will appreciate it, too.” — Star Tribune/Tribune News Service