Sept. 16-22 is Falls Prevention Awareness Week in Virginia
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall-related injury, and each year, more than three million older adults are injured in a fall. That translates to more than 850,000 hospitalizations, 29,000 deaths and $50 billion in annual health-care costs.
For the past two years, Marymount University and area senior-serving agencies and organizations have made use of a nearly $500,000 federal grant to help reduce the number of falls among older adults in Northern Virginia.
Thanks to a 2016 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living Older Americans’ Act Falls Prevention initiative, Marymount, in partnership with Goodwin House, has laid the foundation for falls prevention infrastructure across Northern Virginia. As a result:
• More than 300 people have been trained to be lay leaders of evidence-based falls prevention programs.
• Falls prevention programs have been established at more than 50 locations across Northern Virginia.
• The Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance was established.
To date, these programs have reached more than 1,400 older adults.
In July, Marymount was awarded another three-year, $540,000 grant from the same federal agency, which will allow the University and its community partners to expand upon the work of their initial grant. They will:
• Expand the activities of Marymount’s regional training office that prepares lay leaders/coaches to run evidence-based falls prevention programs.
• Provide support to community organizations in establishing ongoing falls prevention programs
• Foster the full maturity of the Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance
• Build a robust referral network for falls prevention programs
• Establish an academic-community partnership for falls prevention and optimal aging promotion.
They expect to reach an additional 5,500 older adults over the next three years by expanding the number of sites offering programs, particularly those serving disadvantaged and medically underserved communities. They will also establish an active speaker’s bureau, use the NVFPA as an advocate for falls prevention, and offer an academic-community partnership for service, service-learning, volunteerism and internships.
As part of Falls Prevention Awareness Week in Virginia, Marymount and its community partners will celebrate their accomplishments and new opportunities from 5 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 17 at the Main House on campus.
During Monday’s celebration, Virginia Delegate Karrie Delaney (parts of Fairfax and Loudoun) and State Sen. Barbara Favola will acknowledge the hard work and active advocacy of the Falls Prevention Alliance and the Northern Virginia Aging Network (NVAN).
“Mostly, we hope people will help us celebrate this work,” said Dr. Jennifer Tripken, associate professor and department chair of health & human performance and principle investigator on the new grant. “We hope they will become energized to participate in efforts to decrease the most common cause of injury-related hospitalization and injury-related deaths among older adults in the U.S.”
Other investigators on the Marymount grant team include Dr. Rita Wong, associate provost, research and graduate education, who serves as co-principal investigator; Dr. Sara Pappa, visiting professor in health and human performance who serves as the alliance coordinator, and three faculty members from the physical therapy program, Dr. Diana Venskus, Dr. Cathy Elrod and Dr. Julie Ries.
“Falls in older adults are a major public health issue,” said Wong. “You can’t prevent all falls, but you can drastically reduce the number of older adults who fall, and particularly the number who fall and get hurt.”
Staying physically active and exercising regularly are vital to minimizing the risk of falling. Specific types of exercise have been demonstrated to be effective in decreasing the risk. Evidence-based programs tend to be more structured and require specific training of exercise leaders, which can be difficult to incorporate into general community exercise programs with small budgets. Additionally, older adults are often hesitant to exercise, unrealistically fearing that increased activity will cause them to fall.
The grant has helped Northern Virginia older adult community groups establish evidence-based falls prevention programs:
• Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL) — a strength, balance and fitness program for older adults who are at low-to-moderate risk for falling
• Matter of Balance — small group sessions led by a trained facilitator designed to reduce the fear of falling and familiarize older adults with balance-focused exercise activities
• Otago Exercise Program — a series of strength and balance exercises targeting older adults at high risk for falling, implemented under the guidance of a physical therapist.
Visit the Falls prevention alliance webpage for more information about falls, falls prevention programs, or becoming a lay leader of a falls prevention program. https://novafallsprevention.com/home