One of the leading causes of fatal injuries in older adults is falling. In fact, every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall and emergency room visits related to falling occur every 11 seconds. A group of researchers at Marymount University in Arlington is teaming with senior service organizations to lower those statistics locally. The coalition has won more than $1 million in federal grants to create falls prevention programs that are available to seniors.
“It was a real academic-community partnership to provide a needed service to our community,” said lead researcher Rita Wong, Ed.D., Associate Vice President for Research at Marymount University. “Through the grant, we established the Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance. This Alliance brings together senior-serving communities for advocacy, education, networking, and expansion of falls prevention initiatives.”
Three falls prevention programs were designed based on research by Wong; Sara Pappa, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Health and Human Performance and coordinator of the Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance; Uma Kelekar, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Healthcare Management; and faculty from the Physical Therapy program: Diana Venskus, Ph.D.; Cathy Elrod, Ph.D.; Julie Ries, Ph.D.; and Jade Bender-Burnett, DPT.
The research team created a regional training office for falls prevention at Marymount. “We train lay leaders to run these community falls prevention programs and we help organizations and senior community centers set up falls prevention programs,” said Wong. “Once they’re established, the centers take on primary responsibilities for sustaining the programs.”
Designed to address the needs of seniors at three levels of functioning, the team created three programs: SAIL (Stay Active and Independent for Life), which is a balance and strengthening exercise program geared to fairly active older adults. A Matter of Balance (AMOB) focuses on independent seniors who are worried about falling and want to learn prevention techniques. And Otago Exercise Program (OTAGO), which is toward those who are frail and need closer supervision and an exercise program that is tailored to their specific needs.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, programs are now offered virtually. “Our SAIL classes are structured so we can provide strength, balance, and fitness classes,” said Rose Robinson, instructor and Senior Services Recreation Therapist at ServiceSource, Inc. “We have two SAIL leaders in every class. One instructs while the other adapts.”
Those adaptations, based on ability, are categorized as “Level 1” and “Level 2”, says Robinson. “Level 1 is seated exercise with a steady pace and same routine as Level 2. Level 2 is standing exercise with a higher pace,” said Robinson. “The routine starts with a warmup and about 20 minutes of aerobics. Then we do balance exercises and strength training exercises. We end the class with a cool down like stretching.”
The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service reports that half of all falls happen at home, and they encourage home safety. “Remove clutter from your home or at least areas where you walk a lot, like the hallway or living room,” said occupational therapist, Brittany Ferri, of Simplicity Health. “Remove throw rugs, excess cords, and other items that can be tripped on; get non-slip surfaces for the bathroom like padding under the bathmat, grippies for inside the tub, and similar mats for catching water on bathroom tile.”
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