At a recent meeting of the seven-week Stepping On fall prevention workshop at the Kiwanis Family House on the sprawling UC Davis Medical Center campus, 16 older adults practiced exercises designed to improve their balance, flexibility and strength.
"You can include exercise in your daily life," Kim Wong, a physical therapist, told them. "Sidestep away from the bathroom, with your hand to the wall to guide yourselves."
Retired broadcaster Lou Coppola, 85, has no trouble keeping track of his recent falls: twice going down the short flight of steps separating his kitchen from the den; once while standing on a stool to change a light bulb.
"I have balance problems," he said. "You lose your muscles if you don't do some exercise every day."
Fear of falling keeps many older adults off their feet, but failing to get up and move raises their risk of taking a potentially deadly tumble.
Some shuffle rather than picking up their feet, making them more vulnerable to falls. Some try to avoid the stereotypical stooped-over posture of old age shoulders slumped, chin jutting forward, eyes to the ground but when they throw their shoulders back, the shift in their center of gravity can tip them into falling backward.
The Stepping On program, formulated in Australia and recommended by the CDC because its effectiveness is backed by research, is in a pilot phase with its UC Davis sessions.
Fall prevention has become a hot topic for older adults.
"The interest has been out there all along," said UC Davis Trauma Prevention Program coordinator Christy Adams. "There's an inadequate supply of fall prevention education in the community. We have not as a society kept up with seniors' needs.
"These workshops are a drop of water in the desert. But ultimately, we'll have more classes."
In another effort to stem the tide of fall-related mortality, California State University, Sacramento, biomechanics professor David Mandeville has created a prototype device that he hopes will one day monitor older adults' body position and alert medical professionals when seniors are in danger of falling.
"It's very new research," he said. "The context is remote monitoring through telemedicine. That's the beauty of it."
For now, Mas Hatano takes daily three-mile walks, and he attends the Stepping On classes to see if he needs to learn more.
"You should always learn something," he said. "But the problem with coming to a class like this is that you can get paranoid.
"All they talk about is falling."
IF YOU GO
People interested in taking part in the Stepping On fall prevention workshop at UC Davis Medical Center are required to register. Call (916) 734-9794.