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Falls Prevention: Something a Community Can Agree On

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I know I date myself when I share a quote from “The A-Team,” an action-adventure television series in the 1980s. As Colonel Hannibal Smith, a character played by actor George Peppard would say, “I love it when a plan comes together.” I think of that when I take on new projects and endeavors. Some things seem daunting at first; however, as people and plans come together, it is rewarding to see the fruits of everyone’s work.

That’s how I feel about the collegial relationships between the Northwest Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Center, the University of Washington (UW), Kaiser Permanente, Seattle Housing Authority (SHA), and Aging and Disability Services (ADS), which resulted in the development and implementation of a health promotion and fall prevention plan at two wellness clinics for older adults in the community.

ADS provides building-based case management services for residents of many of the SHA properties, with the interest and support of:

  • that team’s supervisor, Sean Walsh
  • case managers Patricia Dawson and Kieu Barr
  • RN consultant Krista Sneller
  • Case management intern Tessa Wollum
  • SHA community builder Nancy Mero
  • Dr. Patricia Noritake Matsuda and students in the UW School of Rehabilitation Medicine Class of 2019
  • a UW Physical Therapy neurologic resident
  • Justine Gonzalez, OD, a Kaiser Permanente optometrist

Wellness clinics were held at Bitter Lake Manor and Schwabacher House. At Bitter Lake, physical therapy assistant students from Pima Community College also worked with the residents. The clinics included falls prevention and vision screenings.

Doctorate of Physical Therapy students screened for fall risk using evidence-based assessment tools called Timed Up and Go (TUG)—a simple test to assess a person’s mobility that requires both static and dynamic balance—as well as Functional Reach—a measure of frailty as well as an assessment of balance, flexibility, and fall risk.

Everyone—residents and staff alike—reported feeling energy and excitement about the wellness clinics. Whether it was scheduling students with the optometrist, developing a flyer, recruiting participants at a building potluck, going door to door to provide personal invitations to the event, posting sign-up sheets, or providing snacks, everyone participated to make this event a success. Social participation and intergenerational multicultural understanding were unanticipated benefits!

From the Northwest Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Center perspective, the wellness clinics provided opportunities for positive student experiences that help to shape their future as healthcare professionals.

Contributor Mary Pat O’Leary, RN is a planner at Aging and Disability Services—the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County—who enjoys quotes, including this one from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service … You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”


What’s YOUR Fall Prevention Plan?

Falls are no laughing matter. Each year in our country, one of every three adults age 65 or older falls; every 15 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; and every 29 minutes, some older adult dies following a fall.

No matter your age, you can take steps to reduce the risk of falling—your own and for loved ones. Here are the six basics:

  1. Exercise—Follow your health care providers’ directions regarding exercise for strength and balance.
  2. Medications—Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review all medicines in your home—current and expired prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. Put them all in a bag and take them to your appointment.
  3. Exams—Get your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year as well as a periodic hearing test.
  4. Home Safety—Reduce tripping hazards by removing clutter, scatter rugs, extension cords, and bedding or curtains that drape on the floor. Add grab bars and railings, if needed.
  5. Shoes—Wear sturdy footwear when walking inside or outside of your home. Slippers can cause falls!
  6. Family—Enlist family members in making safety improvements in your home as well as theirs, to help others avoid falls.

Learn more about falls prevention on the AgingKingCounty.org Falls Prevention webpage. Also, if you belong to an organization that would like a presentation on falls prevention—perhaps in September, near Falls Prevention Awareness Day—e-mail Mary Pat O’Leary, Aging and Disability Services, at MaryPat.OLeary@seattle.gov.

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