The shouts of schoolchildren playing outside echoed through the gymnasium where an obstacle course was being set up.
There was the “Belgian sidewalk,” a wooden contraption designed to simulate loose tiles; a “sloping slope,” ramps angled at an ankle-unfriendly 45 degrees; and others like “the slalom” and “the pirouette.”
They were not for the children, though, but for a class where the students ranged in age from 65 to 94. The obstacle course was clinically devised to teach them how to navigate treacherous ground without having to worry about falling, and how to fall if they did.
“It’s not a bad thing to be afraid of falling, but it puts you at higher risk of falling,” said Diedeke van Wijk, a physiotherapist who runs WIJKfysio and teaches the course three times a year in Leusden, a bedroom community just outside Amersfoort, in the center of the country.
The Dutch, like many elsewhere, are living longer than in previous generations, often alone. As they do, courses that teach them not only how to avoid falling, but how to fall correctly, are gaining popularity.
This one, called Vallen Verleden Tijd course, roughly translates as “Falling is in the past.” Hundreds of similar courses are taught by registered by physio- and occupational therapists across the Netherlands.
Yet falling courses — especially clinically tested ones — are a fairly recent phenomenon, according to Richard de Ruiter, of the Sint Maartenskliniek in Nijmegen, the foundation hospital that developed this particular course.
Virtually unheard-of just a decade ago, the courses are now common enough that the government rates them. Certain forms of Dutch health insurance even cover part of the costs.
While the students are older, not all of them seemed particularly frail. Herman van Lovink, 88, arrived on his bike. So did Annie Houtveen, 75. But some arrived with walkers and canes, and others were carefully guided by relatives.