Five key organizations have joined forces to create innovative interventions, strategies and programs to prevent injurious falls among the older adult population as part of a five-year, $8-million initiative funded by the Archstone Foundation. According to Joseph Prevratil, J.D., president and CEO of the Long Beach-based private foundation, “The new collaborative has the potential to develop cutting edge fall prevention services in California that can provide a model for the nation.”
The Fall Prevention Center of Excellence involves leading experts from USC's Andrus Gerontology Center, the Center for Successful Aging at Cal State Fullerton, the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center (GRECC) at the VA's Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the State of California's Department of Health Services.
Falls are a serious but preventable problem for many older persons. Just as prevention strategies can reduce heart disease, research indicates that 30-50 percent of falls are preventable by combining risk assessment and medication management, physical activity including balance and strength exercises, and environmental modifications in the home and the community. The center's purposes are to raise public awareness about the seriousness of falls, train healthcare and social service professionals on how to prevent falls, and create model programs and best practices that will set the standard for California and the rest of the country.
Jon Pynoos, Ph.D., UPS Foundation professor of gerontology at USC's Andrus Gerontology Center and co-director of the newly created Fall Prevention Center of Excellence said, “The sad news is that almost everyone has family members who have experienced falls, many of which are serious. It has been said that we are all just one fall away from the emergency room, surgery, or a nursing home. As the population ages, falls will become an even more serious problem. The good news is that there is something we can do about it.”
The center's program office will be housed at the Andrus Center and headed by Dr. Pynoos. The team includes Phoebe Liebig, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Gerontology, and Dory Sabata, OTD, Andrus Center Research Associate. The Center's communication efforts will be led by Maria Henke, M.A. and will feature a website devoted to disseminating information on falls prevention.
Center co-director Debra Rose, Ph.D., developer of the “Fall Proof Program™” and professor of kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton said: “Even many of our participants in their 90s have significantly reduced their risk of falling as a result of their involvement in our community-based balance and mobility programs. The Fall Prevention Center of Excellence will provide us with the opportunity to expand our horizons by adding additional components such as environmental modifications and medication management to get even better results.”
The center plans to work with community partners and organizations to create model programs, testing the best ways to organize and intervene to reduce falls. “There are many existing programs on which to build. We hope to also involve groups such as HMO's that will recognize the economic and humane reasons to invest in fall prevention,” said Center co-director Laurence Rubenstein, M.D., M.P.H., also the director of the Greater Los Angeles Geriatric and Clinical Center at the VA's LA Healthcare System and professor of geriatric medicine at UCLA. His earlier research found that many falls are associated with risk factors including muscle weakness, unsteady gait, medications, and environmental hazards that can be alleviated. Even for those who seek help, however, it is often difficult for them to know where to turn for assistance and what steps should be taken to prevent future falls. Rubenstein said that “Our plan is to provide professionals, agencies and individuals with the knowledge and skills and to intervene appropriately.”
Barbara Alberson, M.P.H., chief of the State and Local Injury Control Section of California's Department of Health Services, underscored the magnitude of the problem by pointing out that in the state more than 1.3 million people age 65 and older fall each year, and more than 213,000 suffer a serious injury or fatality. But the problem is even larger as many older people fail to report falls to either caregivers or health care providers from fear of losing their independence or ignorance that many falls can be prevented.