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Have you ever experienced falls? Everyone falls, but the repetitiveness and severity of falls increases with age. Studies indicate that people, especially elderly, who have experienced falls in the past 6 months, face an increased risk of falling again. Statistics from Hong Kong show that about one in five senior citizens (aged 65 and above) living in the community experience falls each year. About 75% of those who fall get hurt, including head trauma and fractures[1].

DanzUp is one of the winning teams of the “Silver Age Startups” program under the “PolyU Jockey Club ‘Operation SoInno’”, aims to provide dance training to older people to prevent fall and reduce the fall impacts on their bodies. John State, one of the founders of the DanzUp , has experienced many falls. John said, “I have been working at a desk for decades. I do not have to bend my back for the past 30 years. As time passed, my body started leaning forward a little bit. I had a sudden fall one day when I was in my 50s. My daily mobility has been affected since then.”

Sau, who is another founder of the DanzUp, shares the same feeling. He said, “Both of my parents fell and were hospitalized last year. Although surgeries were not needed in their cases, their mobility has been affected even after recovery.”

Design a fall prevention course by integrating personal experience

John and Sau gained relevant knowledge in gerontology courses offered  by the University of Hong Kong.  They came up with the idea of combining academic research results and dancing to design a programme of fall prevention for the elderly.  They adopted the content of the Otago Exercise Programme (OEP) and believed that it would be attractive to the young olds if they incorporated fall prevention exercise into modern dance to allow them to learn how to prevent falls in an earlier stage.

Otago originates in New Zealand, which is an activity aims at muscle building and balance maintenance. Evidence-based medical research found that after training for 6 to 12 months, it can effectively reduce the risk of falls in older people by 35% to 40%. The Otago exercise programme is simple and includes 5 exercises for muscle building and 12 exercises for balance training.

Sau explained, “The training of Otago exercise is supported by empirical scientific evidence. We believe that it is useful. There are quite many fall prevention programmes which include Otago, available in the market currently. However, they are all targeting at people over 65 years old and it seems there is a lack of this type of service for the ‘young old’- the younger groups. It would be much more effective in preventing falls if the group of young elderly people can have relevant training as well.”

“When we participated in the workshop of the Silver Age Startups programme, we conducted a survey on falls. Among a group of 167 respondents aged 50 years above, half had experienced falls; 45% had fallen more than once in the past 12 months. It turns out that the fall rate among the people we could get in contact with was quite high. So we must do something to prevent falls earlier. We should start fall prevention training 15 years before the age of 65. The effect will be much better if we do it in time. We should not wait until people are 65 years old to do the fall prevention training.”

However, Otago’s fall prevention exercise is designed for senior people and uses a slow pace and little variety.

To attract and persuade younger elders to do fall prevention exercises at an earlier stage, John and Sau think that it is not good enough to just copy everything from Otago programme. As a result, DanzUp does not just adopt the Otago exercise, but transformed it into an attractive training course that is suitable for the Young Olds.

“We referred to the most difficult level of Otago and selected eight sets of movements which include: knee bends, walking and turning around, sideways walking, one leg stand, heel walking, toe walking, heel toe walking, and heel toe walking backward. After that, we asked the choreographers to integrate these movements into the dance.” John added.

[1] https://www.chp.gov.hk/files/pdf/ncd_watch_nov2013_chin.pdf

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▲Choreographer of Danzup integrate Otago related movement into the dance

Motivate participants with proper music and choreography

The core idea of DanzUp is simple: “Song driven rhythmic movements routine to prevent fall in fun for joy”. How to motivate participants to dance voluntarily and naturally is another issue for their dance design. They explored various types of dances and songs, including jazz dance, belly dance, social dance etc. They also consulted many choreographers for designing the movements and in the end found Emily, a choreographer who has experience in teaching elders dancing. According to John, Emily understood their concept quickly and choreographed according to their idea. “We have collected many samples of dances and many pieces of songs for the choreographer as reference, especially the songs from the 50s. These songs are the collective memory of people of our age. For example, we feel particularly familiar and relax when we hear the song of ‘Moon River’. But regarding the design of the dance, we allowed the young choreographer to develop freely and hoped that it would bring out a touch of modern.”

The idea of DanzUp was very successful and Emily did not let them down as well. Both the music arrangement and the rhythmic dance bring out a sense of modernity and the movements are within the participants’ abilities.

John added, the dances they choreographed and the selected songs not only can motivate the participants, but also include eight basic steps of Otago, which help to improve the balance between upper body and the lower body. There are three essential concepts in fall prevention:

  1. Balance training – the coordination of upper body and lower body
  2. The shifting of our body’s focus – the body should not lean forward
  3. Strengthen muscles – all the muscles of the whole body are trained

DanzUp emphasizes the coordination of the muscles of the whole body. When the muscles have been further enhanced and coordinated well with each other, they act as a useful buffer when people lose balance, as the body is able to correct itself.

Positive responses from the participants – Fit and Fun

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It was the first time for Miranda and Rita to participate in DanzUp’s class. They said after the class: “I think it’s because it’s the first lesson, so we are a bit tired but also excited. The dance is a bit like Agogo which gives us a feeling of being young again. So we are really happy today.”

Wanis has participated in the DanzUp class for five times. She said, “The music of DanzUp is strong and intense but is also familiar to me, therefore I can dance relaxingly. I believe that if I continue in this way and do it well, it is going to be very helpful for my body’s coordination and even my vision.”

John pointed out: “Among our participants, 60% are aged 50 – 64 and 40% are between 65 and 79 years old. We noticed that the older participants are even more proactive than the younger ones, it’s probably because some of them have experienced falls. We do not have an age limitation; all young friends are very welcome to join us. The sooner one participates in fall prevention exercises the better. What we hope the most is to help everybody to rebuild their joints’ strength and return to a stage like when they were young.

DanzUp has found their direction of operation after half a year of trial.  The number of participants has increased gradually. Looking ahead, in addition to teaching dances, DanzUp is planning to offer participants a free assessment of fall risk, and thus helps understand the risks of fall. They believe that it can help middle-aged, young old and old people to prevent falls and achieve the purpose of DanzUp – fall prevention education.




Written in Chinese: Rena Lau

Translation by: Sui Chu Wu

Photography and Design: Jenny Ma