Study: State program prevents falls

A program available to help seniors prevent falls is Healthy Steps for Older Adults.

A recent study by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health has determined that the program has reduced falls for seniors by 17 percent statewide.

The four-hour workshop is provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and educates older adults on how to prevent falls and stay active and healthy in their homes, said Angel Dandrea, community services program supervisor for Blair Senior Services.

The program shows how potential hazards in and around the home can lead to falls or injury and offers suggestions on how participants can ensure their safety, she said. The program is open to residents ages 50 and older.

The classes also include exercise demonstrations that can be beneficial for strength and coordination. They are led by peer volunteers as well as with assistance from medical assistants from YTI Career Institute, Dandrea said.

In the University of Pittsburgh study, Pitt Public Health researchers followed about 2,000 older Pennsylvanians between 2010 and 2011 to determine the effectiveness of the state’s Healthy Steps for Older Adults program, according to a release from Pitt Health Media Relations.

Results of the study, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health are published in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health and are available online.

“There is a high prevalence of falls among people 65 and older that increases with age, as does the inability to get up after a fall,” said lead author Steven Albert, Ph.D chairman of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences at Pitt Public Health. “A challenge for public health officials is to decrease the risk of falls without encouraging reduced physical activity. Our research shows that the Healthy Steps for Older Adults program is a successful tool to help reduce falls.”

According to the CDC, one in three adults ages 65 and older falls each year and, of those who fall, 20 to 30 percent suffer moderate to severe injuries that make it hard for them to live independently, and increase their risk of early death.

By 2020, the CDC estimates, the annual direct and indirect cost of fall injuries will reach $67.7 billion.

Healthy Steps for Older Adults offers risk screening for falls and educational information regarding fall prevention. Participants who are identified as high risk for falls are referred to primary care providers and encouraged to complete home safety assessments, which identify modification – including banisters and grab bars – to reduce hazards in their homes that might put them at risk for falls.

Albert and his co-authors recruited 814 older adults at senior centers statewide to complete the program and compared them to 1,019 counterparts who did not. The average age of study participants was 75.4 years.

Of those who completed the program and were informed they were at high risk for falls, 21.5 percent followed up with physicians. More than three-quarters of program participants at high risk conducted home safety assessments, and a third went on to reduce home hazards.

“Though further analyses will be necessary to understand specifically how these actions translated into a 17 percent reduction in falls, it appears that referrals for physician care and home safety assessments, along with informing older adults of their high-risk status and heightening their sensitivity to situations involving a risk of falling, may lead to reductions in falls,” Albert said.

The Healthy Steps for Older Adults workshops have been held at our Southern Blair, Central Blair and Northern Blair Senior Centers over the past six months, Dandrea said.

Workshops are continually being scheduled at these locations, and Dandrea said more are planned for summer.

For more information on the workshops, call 946-1235.