Western Carolina University is the recipient of a $100,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission for a new balance and fall prevention clinic under development in the university’s recently opened Health and Human Sciences Building. The funding will enable the purchase of specialized equipment for the new clinic, where students and practicing medical professionals will receive training in how to properly assess and treat fall and balance problems among older adults.
“Injuries resulting from falls are a significant health problem for older adults, which is a fast-growing segment of the population in Western North Carolina,” said Marie Huff, interim dean of WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. “This grant will help us train our students in the diagnosis of balance problems and other situations that can lead to falls, how to help older adults reduce the risk of falling, and how to treat them when falls do occur.”
The clinic will provide service to residents of Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties and on the Qualla Boundary.
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, said Huff, who co-wrote the grant proposal with Linda Seestedt-Stanford, former dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences.
“Through the services provided by this clinic, we will help keep senior citizens living independently and in their homes, which will have a positive impact on the local economy,” Huff said. “The clinic will provide support to caregivers and will enhance the education of students, faculty and practitioners within the health and human sciences fields. The university will graduate health care professionals who are better prepared to focus on the needs of older adults.”
The equipment made possible by the ARC funding will be used by students and faculty in several academic disciplines, including physical therapy, speech and hearing, and nursing, that are located in the Health and Human Sciences Building, which opened in August.
The balance and fall prevention clinic at WCU is among the current and upcoming features of the $46 million Health and Human Sciences Building, the first facility to be constructed on the university’s West Campus. The four-story, 160,000 square-foot flagship building brings under one roof more than 1,000 students, faculty and staff in health-related academic programs previously located in several different structures.
The building’s first floor features an interdisciplinary clinic, which hosts WCU’s nationally recognized Speech and Hearing Clinic, and includes space for specialized clinics related to physical therapy, nursing, social work, nutrition, athletic training and recreational therapy.
In addition to the balance and fall prevention clinic, specific offerings being developed to address community needs include a regional assessment center for older adults. In these clinics, specialized diagnostic and rehabilitation services will be provided to members of the community, with a primary emphasis on student education and training. Video capabilities enable patients, students and faculty to observe and review experiences in the clinics.
Equipment purchased through the ARC grant is expected to be acquired over the next few months, and the balance and fall prevention clinic is anticipated to begin offering services as early as February for individuals with balance, dizziness and mobility disorders.
For more information about WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences, call 828-227-7271, or visit the website chhs.wcu.edu.