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Broome County Office for the Aging and County Health Department Partner to Prevent and Fight Falls

According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), an older adult is seen in an emergency department every 15 seconds for a fall-related injury. Falls are the leading cause injuries for those aged 65 and over. In 2006, data analysis from the NYS Health Department's (DOH) Community Health Assessment process revealed that Broome County had a notably higher fall related hospitalization rate for the 65 and over population than the national average.

Falls are predictable and preventable but can be devastating to older adults. Adding to the seriousness of the problem are the costs of treatment and recovery in New York State.

In 2005, 48,947 NY residents age 65+ required hospital stays as the result of a fall. An additional 77,178 were treated and released from an emergency department. This is a total of 126,125 older New Yorkers, averaging over 345 people per day. In 2005, the cost for fall injuries in NYS residents age 65+ were almost $1.5 billion for hospitalizations and over $100 million for emergency department visits.

The fact is, injuries and the loss of independence from falls often cause an older person's life to change radically and for the worse. Sixty percent of these falls occur in the home. Three of the most obvious and easy changes a person can make to avoid falls are reducing clutter, making sure electrical cords are safely tucked away from walking paths, and being sure throw rugs and carpets are secured to the floor.

The Broome County Office for the Aging (BCOFA)organized a workgroup focused on chronic disease management and wellness promotion and decided, because of the interconnectedness of the issues, to see what could be done to lower the county's high fall related hospitalization rates for older adults. The workgroup developed plans to address the high rate of falls within Broome County.

The Broome County plan began by training people to provide an evidence-based program - A Matter of Balance" that teaches seniors practical strategies(External Link) to reduce the fear of falling and increase activity levels. The work group also organized a Balance Clinic.

"The Balance Clinic was such a success that we have held two every year since [then]", said Kathleen Bunnell, Director of BCOFA.

In addition, the Broome County Health Department and the BCOFA have been working together in conjunction with the New York State Department of Health and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on a national Fall Prevention project that provides adults 65 and older with the opportunity to participate in different community fall prevention programs. These programs focus on improving functional ability (balance, physical function) and, consequently, reduce fall-related risks and falls frequency. This project is called "Better Balance for Broome."

Three of the programs offered under Better Balance for Broome include: "Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance," "Stepping On," and the "STEADI Program." Visit the Broome County web site for more information on these programs.(External Link)

Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance is a program using graceful form of martial arts that has been tailored specifically for older adults. It uses slow precise movements that can help participants stay fit, reduce falls, and fight some chronic diseases. Research done in several countries has shown that Tai Chi can reduce the risk of falling up to 55%. Tai Chi assists with improving arthritis, high blood pressure, poor balance, stress, and sleep patterns.

Stepping On is a program for adults ages 65 and older who are at risk of falling, have a fear of falling or who have fallen one or more times. Stepping On is a seven week program designed to empower older adults to carry out health behaviors that reduce the risks of falls, improve self-management, and increase quality of life. Topics covered by the program include: improving balance and strength; home and community safety; vision; safe footwear; and medication review.

STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents Deaths and Injuries) is a program created for clinicians in response to the lack of awareness of clinical guidelines for prevention of falls in older adults over the age of 65. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is working with Broome County and a local hospital system as a test site to pilot this program. Clinicians have voiced a need for standardized information and materials related to fall risk assessments. Many Broome County health care providers are conducting annual fall risk assessments and promoting a fall plan of care for their patients who are identified to be at risk. Local hospitals have expressed an interest in the impact of the falls statistics and are working with the BCOFA to develop materials and protocols for referring at-risk patients to these community-based programs. BCOFA maintains a listing of available falls prevention programs on their website and in publication.

Older adults and their families are encouraged to learn more about fall prevention and how to participate in fall prevention programs. For more information about these fall prevention programs, contact Mary McFadden at 607-778-3929, mmcfadden@broome.ny.us or Rita Fluharty at 607-778-2411, rfluharty@co.broome.ny.us

Did You Know?
Studies have found that a combination of interventions can significantly reduce falls in the older adult population. Experts recommend:

For more information about fall prevention, you can visit these websites:
Tools and Resources for Preventing Falls from the National Council on Aging(External Link)
Data and Information on Falls and Falls Prevention (New York State DOH)
(External Link)