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10 Years Standing Together to Prevent Falls

The 10th annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day will be observed on September 22, 2017—the first day of fall. In honor of this notable milestone, this year’s theme is “10 Years Standing Together to Prevent Falls.” Washington Governor Jay Inslee has declared September 22 as Falls Prevention Awareness Day. During this week, many events throughout the state will take place to raise awareness about safety and how to prevent fall-related injuries among older adults.

Did you know that one in three Americans aged 65+ falls every year? Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. According to Public Health—Seattle & King County, falls account for 72 percent of all injury hospitalizations for adults age 60 and older. Falls are costly—in dollars and in quality of life. However, falls are preventable, and falling is not an inevitable part of aging. Through practical lifestyle adjustments, evidence-based programs, and community partnerships, the number of falls among older adults can be reduced substantially.

Washington State Falls Prevention Plan

In July 2015, the National Council on Aging released its Falls Free® National Action Plan—a blueprint describing what should be done to reduce the growing number of falls and fall-related injuries among older adults. The updated plan builds on the original Falls Free® National Action Plan, released in 2005, and is the product of key recommendations and strategies collected during the Falls Prevention Summit, a White House Conference on Aging event, held in April 2015.

Washington State is in the process of developing its first State Action Plan on Older Adult Falls Prevention, scheduled to be released the fall of 2018. The plan is intended to: 1) improve coordination of falls prevention efforts; 2) facilitate increased funding opportunities; and 3) initiate policy development regarding falls prevention.

Over 600 individuals participated in the statewide Older Adult Falls Prevention Survey, conducted during the summer. The purpose of the survey was to gather input from individuals throughout the state, on their attitudes and ideas regarding falls prevention. Information gathered from the survey will help define priorities and recommendations in the Action Plan.

Falls Are Preventable

According to Carolyn Ham, Washington State Department of Health’s fall prevention specialist, early survey results revealed that when it comes to falls, older adults are largely concerned about community safety. This includes safe sidewalks, good lighting, and access to transportation. Medical professionals, on the other hand, disclosed that most healthcare providers utilize some type of fall risk assessments in their practice but, when it comes to referrals, knowledge about evidence-based fall prevention programs within their own community is limited.

“It’s important that we continue to build better partnerships to help older adults access falls prevention programming. Older adults and healthcare providers both need education that falls are preventable,” says Carolyn, especially since it’s a well-known fact that falls can result in broken bones, head injuries, and even death.

The survey is now closed, but there is still an opportunity to provide input for the Action Plan. Carolyn is looking for individuals—including older adults, family members and caregivers—who are willing to participate in falls prevention focus groups. These focus groups will be conducted throughout the state through the end of October. If you are interested in participating, e-mail carolyn.ham@doh.wa.gov.

Community Resources

Many evidence-based fall prevention programs are offered at senior centers and other locations throughout King County. These programs help older adults gain strength, improve balance, and build confidence to help them live safer and healthier, and preserve their independence.

  • A Matter of Balance—This eight-week structured group intervention emphasizes practical strategies to reduce the fear of falling and increase activity levels. Participants learn to view falls and fear of falling as controllable, and set realistic goals to increase activity, change their environment to reduce fall risk factors, and exercise to increase strength and balance.
  • Enhance Fitness—This participant-centered, low-cost exercise program helps older adults, at all levels of fitness, become more active, energized and empowered to sustain independent lives.
  • Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL)—SAIL improves strength, balance, and fitness. The entire curriculum of activities can help improve strength and balance, if done regularly. SAIL is offered three times a week in one-hour classes. SAIL exercises can be done standing or sitting.
  • Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance®—This evidence-based fall prevention program is for older adults and people with movement disorders. The methodology is designed to address postural instability and gait disorders and, subsequently, prevent falls. The program consists of a variety of activities that have been transformed, on the basis of Tai Ji Quan theory and clinical practice, into an integrated movement therapy for balance training.
  • One Step Ahead Fall Prevention Program—King County residents age 50+ who are at high risk for falls can get a free in-home assessment and custom recommendations to improve safety. Low-income individuals may be eligible for installation of fall safety devices. To schedule an appointment, call Alan Abe, Falls Prevention Manager, at 206-263-8544 or e-mail alan.abe@kingcounty.gov.
  • Washington Department of Health Falls Prevention

What You Can Do to Prevent Falls

In addition to regular balance and strength exercise, there are many things you can do to prevent falls. Choose one risk factor to address and go for it!

  1. Have your doctor or pharmacist review your medications regularly.
  2. Have your vision checked annually.
  3. Make your home safer by removing clutter and installing night lights.
  4. Make sure your assistive device (cane or walker) is properly fitted for you.
  5. Always wear well-fitting shoes for better stability—indoors or out.

Contributor Karen Winston is the lead Aging and Disability Services planner on falls prevention. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/falls_prevention.htm.

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