Kathy Dubber was falling all the time. Though she hasn’t had a major injury yet, it still scared her. And with both knees now replaced, it’s more difficult for her to get up from a low chair or the floor.
“I felt like I could use some more mobility,” said Dubber, who lives in Walhalla.
Falls can jeopardize the safety and independence of seniors as they are the leading cause of nonfatal and fatal injuries in people 65 years and older, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
A team of Clemson University researchers and students are working to reduce the fall risk of individuals 55 years and older in Oconee County, like Dubber.
Cheryl Dye, director of the Clemson University Institute for Engaged Aging (IEA), Marieke Van Puymbroeck, a professor of recreational therapy in the parks, recreation and tourism management (PRTM) department, and Karen Kemper, a public health sciences professor, along with their students Em Adams, a doctoral student in PRTM, and Sophia Nance, an honors student in public health sciences, offer a fall prevention program on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Senior Solutions Senior Center in Seneca.
A $25,000 grant from the Pete and Sally Smith Family Foundation is helping IEA fund this fall prevention initiative that includes a best-practice program, A Matter of Balance, which helps reduce the fear of falling and risks for falling as well as building self-efficacy to be more physically active. After the Matter of Balance component, participants complete a yoga course to further improve balance and strength.
“We really want to empower people so they can feel like they can take control of their fall risk,” Van Puymbroeck said. “When people have fallen, they become afraid and there’s this huge cascade of fear that happens with the fall, called fear of falling. They stop doing enjoyable activities and stop doing health-promoting activities; and there’s this vicious cycle. Hopefully we’ll be able to intervene there.”
Some of the fall risk factors include lower body weakness and difficulties with walking and balance in addition to environmental hazards such as poor lighting, clutter and uneven walking surfaces, Dye said. In the program, Dye leads the Matter of Balance component that addresses these fall risk factors and facilitates discussions regarding solutions to reduce fall risk
“This program teaches them how to prevent a fall, safely get up from a fall, increase physical activity and improve their balance,” Dye said. “It builds their confidence.”
And through this program, Dubber, a participant in 2018, and other local senior residents have gained confidence. At almost 80, Dubber has arthritis, which makes it harder for her to move, and she walks with the aid of a walker.
“This is something I needed,” Dubber said. “Just about any senior could benefit from this. If you don’t have the knowledge, it’s hard to prevent the falls from happening.”
True to the name of the prevention program, Carol Calhoun of Seneca participated in the program to help her prevent falls as she ages. After a good friend of hers fell and broke her hip, Calhoun knew she didn’t want to go through the same thing.
“This program makes you much more conscientious of fall risks,” the 62-year-old said. “I have a dog, and I’m constantly tripping over his toys. In this class we do a lot of problem-solving. I’ve learned to put all of his toys in a basket at the end of day. It’s good to have stuff in place as you age to prevent fall risks.”
The program is entering its second year after having 45 participants in the first year. Evaluation data collected during this project will support a fall prevention research proposal that IEA researchers, in collaboration with GHS clinicians, plan to submit to the National Institutes of Health to refine strategies for program delivery, healthcare provider fall risk assessment and patient referrals to the program.
While the program is temporarily being delivered at Senior Solutions in Seneca, it will move to Oconee Memorial Hospital, part of the Greenville Health System (GHS), when renovations for a new IEA balance clinic are completed later this year. At that time, the Clemson team will increase coordinated efforts with GHS for the fall prevention program and work to fully implement a fall risk assessment developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries (STEADI).
Scott Sasser, MD, chief clinical officer over GHS’ western region, which includes the Oconee Medical Campus, said this program will help combat falls – a growing challenge.
“Falls are a growing clinical and public health challenge,” Sasser said. “This program, which combines the academic knowledge and experience of Clemson University with the clinical expertise at GHS, can have a significant impact on our patients, their families and our community.”
An information session about the fall prevention program will be held at 9 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2019, at the Senior Solutions Senior Center in Seneca. The upcoming spring session of the program will only include the Matter of Balance component. For more information about the program, contact Cheryl Dye at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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