By: Jennifer Heiligman, PT, MPT
As rehab professionals, we are all aware that falls are a significant and common health risk facing individuals 65 years and older. Per the National Council on Aging (NCOA) every 11 seconds an older adult visits the Emergency Room (ER) secondary to a fall. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) falls are the cause of 90% of ER visits for older adults. About 95% of hip fractures are the result of a fall. In addition, falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for older adults.
Taking these statistics into consideration, it is easy to see why the NCOA established Falls Prevention Awareness Week. This week was established to raise awareness that falls are preventable. This celebration originally started as just a single day of awareness that took place on September 22nd, or the first day of Fall (a clever coincidence? I think not). But, due to its importance, it was expanded into a whole week of education.
This is a great time to make older adults aware of their risk for a fall but also educate them that falls are preventable and provide them with methods to help prevent a fall. The NCOA has developed a toolkit to help organizations participate in this year’s Falls Prevention Awareness campaign. The toolkit can be found here. This kit includes digital and printable assets that can be used to promote awareness. It also includes the Falls Free Check Up which is a 12 question digital survey that individuals can take to see if they are at risk for falls.
Here are some ideas that can be implemented within your clinic to help participate in Falls Prevention Awareness Week:
- Host a free Falls Risk Screening Clinic. You can administer balance screenings, including the Timed Up and Go (TUG) or the Berg Balance Assessment. You could also use the Falls Free Check Up that was mentioned above. Provide educational information to the participants on how they can prevent falls. For example, staying active and being aware of their environment by changing elements that may lead to a fall. These include such things as throw rugs and poor lighting.
- Promote the CDC’s new program Still Going Strong. This program was established to help educate older adults on how they can age without injury while continuing to participate in the activities they enjoy.
- Have your clinical staff become familiar with the CDC’s program STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries). This program is specifically designed for healthcare professionals and how they can incorporate fall and injury prevention education for their older patients into their clinical practices. The 3 major components include: Screen, Assess, Intervene. Combining these elements, a healthcare provider can have a significant impact on improving patient outcomes, preventing falls and decreasing healthcare costs. The program contains a suite of resources and tools that can be used by the provider. If you are an OptimisPT user, the system will automatically prompt the therapist to complete a balance assessment should the patient be flagged as a falls risk within the medical history section. This helps to identify those at risk patients.
The key to improving falls prevention is through educating older adults. They need to be aware that falling is not a normal part of aging. There are steps they can take to reduce their risk of falling. These steps include such things as staying active, performing the correct exercises, making their home safe and getting regular check ups including a review of their medications to be sure there are no interactions that may affect their balance. Falls Prevention Awareness Week offers the perfect opportunity to get your clinic involved in this very important aspect of community education.