Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries for Americans 65 and older. More than 18,000 older Americans die every year because of a fall, and the rate has risen dramatically over the last 10 years.
In addition to fatalities, “Falls commonly result in loss of mobility and independence among older adults,” said Lori Schrodt, associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Western Carolina University and a member of the North Carolina Falls Prevention Coalition and the Western North Carolina Fall Prevention Coalition. “It’s this loss of mobility that often results in an older person’s inability to remain living in his or her own home,” she said.
But the good news is that research shows a physical activity program that combines progressive balance and strength training is one of the best ways to reduce fall risk, Schrodt said. Other important interventions include having an annual vision exam, a periodic medication review by a pharmacist or doctor to identify medications that may increase fall risk, and removing hazards and improving lighting in the home. “One way to start reducing your risk of falls is to undergo a screening for the primary risk factors,” Schrodt said.
The Jackson County Health Department collaborates with the Jackson County Senior Center and WCU to offer free fall risk screening clinics several times each year. In recognition of National Falls Prevention Awareness Day, a clinic will be held Friday, Sept. 23, from 9 a.m. until noon at the Jackson County Senior Center. Individuals who attend the clinic will undergo a series of simple tests to assess their fall risk and receive individualized recommendations based on the results, as well as general fall prevention information.
Anyone interested in attending the clinic should call Sue Evans at the Jackson County Health Department at 828-587-8279 to schedule an appointment. Another fall risk screening clinic is tentatively scheduled for later this year.
In addition to the fall risk screening clinic, Schrodt is actively involved in numerous regional fall prevention programs. She and WCU physical therapy students assist with a balance exercise class, “Get Some Balance in Your Life,” that is offered at the Jackson County Senior Center. Schrodt also is researching outcomes from the exercise class, and so far, individuals who participate in the 12-week program are showing clear improvements in their balance, she said.
In collaboration with the North Carolina Center for Healthy Aging, the Western North Carolina Fall Prevention Coalition, and faculty from UNC Asheville and Appalachian State University, Schrodt is leading a program to train community providers to offer brief fall risk screenings at community and senior centers throughout seven counties in Western North Carolina. The screening and training program also is serving to pilot test an initiative Schrodt worked on as chair of the risk assessment subcommittee of the North Carolina Falls Prevention Coalition. The hope is for the program to be implemented statewide next year.
“Recognition that many falls can be prevented has been a key first step in development of programs and services to assist older adults in reducing their risk,” Schrodt said. “Community and health care organizations are currently working hard to implement strategies to reduce falls and get older adults the services they need. There also are several strong programs and initiatives that will be coming from the national level in the next year that will offer more evidence-based options.”
WCU also will be expanding its regional services aimed at fall prevention to include a Balance Center. Once fully under way, the center will be part of WCU’s new Health and Human Sciences Interdisciplinary Clinic and will offer clinical services for individuals with balance, dizziness and mobility disorders.
The center recently acquired a state-of-the-art computerized balance assessment system to assist in precise assessment and treatment of many balance disorders. In addition to clinical services, the center’s staff will continue collaborating with regional partners to build and expand community-based programs for older adults. The staff also will offer training and outreach programs to regional health care and community service providers in balance improvement and fall prevention strategies.
For more information about Schrodt’s work in fall prevention, contact her at 828-227-2379 or firstname.lastname@example.org.