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UB TCIE Helps Prevent Older Adults in Genesee County from Falling

By Tracy Rzepka

Release Date: October 1, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Genesee County Office for the Aging (OFA) Director Pamela Whitmore admits that until two years ago, little focus was placed on preventing falls among the county's older adults in home and community-based settings. One-third of the elderly population experience a fall each year, a leading cause of injuries for those 65 and older, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prevention is now on the radar screen thanks to two grants totaling $110,000 from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York (the former Community Health Foundation of Western and Central New York) that were awarded to the OFA and a consortium of organizations, including the University at Buffalo's engineering outreach center, TCIE. Both the population at risk and health-related providers are being educated on ways to increase safety.

UB TCIE is project manager of Step Up to Stop Falls in Genesee County, overseeing implementation of a multi-dimensional plan to improve mobility and balance among older adults. Partnering organizations include United Memorial Medical Center (Summit Physical Therapy), Genesee Community College's nursing program and Independent Living of Genesee Region. Also involved are members of a countywide Long Term Care Task Force Committee.

"We wanted to offer a diverse range of approaches -- more of a communitywide approach," said Whitmore, project executive leader for the grant.

Step Up to Stop Falls officially ends in November, but program elements were embedded into existing systems to ensure prevention efforts don't slip from public consciousness. The strategies are reaching hundreds and include:

* Professional education: As part of a geriatric clinical rotation, community college nursing and physical therapy assistant students participate in an experiential learning activity. They screen residents of senior housing complexes, during health fairs held six times per year at a different site, to determine their risk of falling. The test results are given to the residents for them to discuss with their primary physicians.

* Exercise: OTAGO, a strength and balance training program administered by trained physical therapists and typically covered by health insurance, is available through five Genesee County agencies that provide physical therapy in both community and in-home settings. The program, offered to those with a doctor's referral, improves the balance of frailer, older adults through toning and conditioning.

* Home safety assessments: Older county residents are eligible to receive an assessment of hazards in their home -- whether they want one room examined or all -- and suggestions for a safer environment. No/low cost repair needs are referred to the PathStone Handyman/Mini-Repair Program through a referral by the OFA.

* Community education: Falls prevention literature is available at doctor's offices and medical care facilities, and articles on the topic are printed in Genesee County publications. Congregate meal sites host casual, small group discussions for participants to learn from facilitators and each other.

Whitmore estimates that from 2006 to 2008 -- the most recent years for which numbers have been compiled -- falls in the county equated to $544,000 in emergency room visits and $3.32 million in hospitalizations.

While statistics are not available to evaluate impact, Step Up to Stop Falls Program Coordinator James Moody is encouraged by escalating participation rates for each of the core services.

"More and more people are becoming informed so that they can deduce for themselves how they want to prevent falls," Moody said. "With prevention, the first step is knowledge and discussion."

Step Up to Stop Falls will be celebrated with an invite-only "summary conference" on October 16. Anyone interested in attending or learning more about Genesee County's fall prevention initiatives should call OFA at 585-343-1611.

A program of UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, TCIE is Western New York's bridge to excellence by providing a dynamic link between UB's expert resources and the region's business community. TCIE's engineering solutions ignite innovation and technological advancement, and its core focus on operational excellence drives continuous improvement. For more information on how TCIE can assist Western New York businesses, visit: http://www.tcie.buffalo.edu or call 716-645-8800.