This article is from OrlandoSentinel.com and is found here: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-safe-self-defense-seniors-20160126-story.html

February 1, 2016 – Jane Langston sat in her walker, watching intently as two Seminole County Sheriff’s Office instructors demonstrated how to defend against crime.

The instructors held red strike pads from their position in the center of a group that included Langston, 88, and about a dozen other older women standing in a circle. They approached each participant, braced for a hit or kick in the recent self-defense course in Altamonte Springs.

It’s difficult to gauge the risk Florida seniors face — the Florida Department of Law Enforcement doesn’t have a breakdown on violent crimes against people 65 and older. But a report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found an average of 136,720 in that age group in the U.S. were victims of violent crime annually between 2003 and 2013.

Law officers say it’s important for seniors to have a basic understanding of how to avoid becoming a crime victim. Seminole County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman and women’s self-defense coordinator Keri Higby modifies the National Self-Defense Institute class she offers for seniors, who may have mobility issues.

“They use devices like canes and wheelchairs, and we’re willing to work with them so that they can gain some type of knowledge from our basic moves and feel confident enough to do the moves like everyone else,” Higby said.

For 70-year-old Claudia Laine, a mature-adult fitness instructor, the class was another tool for her to be as self-assured as possible.

“It’s just today’s world,” she said. “And I tend to be a pretty naive person, and very, very trusting. And I know it’s probably not always the best thing to be. So I feel like I need that knowledge. I don’t want to be paranoid, but I want to be aware and I want to know even the small things that I can do to protect myself, just like walking confident, not feeling lost.”

Word about such courses travels fast among the ballooning population of seniors in Central Florida. According to the most recent five-year estimates, people 65 and over accounted for about 13 percent of the population in Seminole, about 25 percent in Lake and about 10 percent in Orange.

The SAFE — Self-defense Awareness & Familiarization Exchange — class aims to prevent crimes from happening in the first place, Higby said, “with an element of self-defense” added into the mix. The women don’t actually get up to yell, kick and strike out at instructors posing as criminals until after they’ve sat through a lecture and watched videos about self-awareness.

SAFE is offered by various agencies for women. Higby said they take attendees as young as 13. The course is popular among older residents, Higby said.

Higby said it’s up to each person how far they want to go during a potential confrontation. For instance, a senior faced with a purse snatching may choose to hand over her handbag. The idea is not to struggle.

“SAFE is not designed to fight,” Higby said. “You’re going to use one of these five moves to hopefully get to safety.”

As she stood by her walker after the session ended, clad in a deep blue jacket, Langston of Casselberry said the class was more detailed than another she previously attended.

“I’ve had a similar class … two or three years ago when I moved down here from North Carolina and this is similar,” she said. “But this is even better, I believe, than the one we had before.”

Sarah Price, a community liaison officer at the Winter Garden Police Department, offers a SAFE course each quarter.

Though Price hasn’t seen a large increase in older adults enrolling in sessions, she noted that her oldest participants have been in their 90s. A couple of the elder attendees were accompanied by caregivers, she said.

It’s common for attendees to bring loved ones with them to participate in the course.

“This program spreads that way and people want to join together, so we see a lot of families coming,” Higby said. “Mothers, daughters, grandparents, aunts, nieces…They want to feel safe together in a class.”

An earlier version of this story misidentified the positions of Seminole County Sheriff’s Office self-defense instructors.

jinman@orlandosentinel.com

Copyright © 2016, Orlando Sentinel. Original article is here: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-safe-self-defense-seniors-20160126-story.html

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For information about any upcoming SAFE classes at One Senior Place, contact Arielle Karoub, VITAS Healthcare Community Liaison at 407-848-7362.