A simple, inexpensive program based at community senior centers can help prevent falls among older adults, according to a new analysis.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Aging has offered the program at no cost to all adults 50 years old or older throughout the state since 2007. It uses the existing state network of services for older adults, such as walk-in senior centers, to offer the program components.
Adults who participate receive assessments of their balance and mobility and a referral for physician care or a home safety evaluation if their scores are below the norms for their age and sex. The program also includes a 2-hour fall prevention class that explains household hazards and a demonstration of exercises designed to improve balance and mobility.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled a list of successful interventions that community-based programs can use to help prevent falls, but little evidence is available on the short-term, low-cost, population-wide type of program used in Pennsylvania. So during 2010 to 2011, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health compared the outcomes of 814 adults who participated at senior centers with 1019 adults at the same centers who didn’t participate. Their average age was 75.4 years.
After a year of follow-up, the incidence of falls was 17% lower among participants than nonparticipants. The difference was significant, and adults whose balance was fair or poor derived the most benefit. Further analysis would be needed to tease out which program components were most responsible for the reduction in falls, according to the researchers.
They noted that about one-fifth of the participants at high risk of falls followed up with a physician, but three-fourths carried out home safety assessments and one-third made changes to reduce their home hazards.
“Simply 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,” the investigators wrote in their study, published online today in the American Journal of Public Health.
The State of Pennsylvania reimburses senior centers $70 per volunteer involved in administering the program. Volunteers keep program costs low, the researchers noted. During 2010 to 2011, the state allocated $1.2 million for the program. The CDC has estimated that the annual direct and indirect cost of fall injuries in the United States will reach $67.7 billion by 2020.