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Falls Free Dane Coalition: Preventing Falls in Older Adults

Jul 3, 2024 | Your Health

When a young person falls, it’s usually not an event that has a lasting impact. That’s not always the case for older adults. It’s important seniors implement fall prevention strategies so they reduce their fall risk.

The Falls Free Dane Coalition works to address falls among older adults in Dane County. Bill Huisheere, Supervisor at the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Dane County and Chair of the Falls Free Dane Coalition, and Ashley Hillman, Falls Prevention Program Manager at Safe Communities, share more about the coalition and its importance in the community.

Key Initiatives within the Coalition

One reason for the establishment of Falls Free Dane Coalition is that Wisconsin is number-one for fall deaths in the nation. That needs to change. Today, there are over 70 partners who participate in the coalition, including the United Way, emergency medical services (EMS), health care organizations, public health, older adults, academia, faith-based organizations, senior housing,  community centers, and the Aging and Disability Resource Center.

A key initiative is “Only Leaves Should Fall,” an annual event that partners with various colleges and universities within Dane County.  Physical therapy students, occupational therapy students, nursing students, and pharmacy students all participate in advising older adults on fall prevention. Certain medications increase the risk of falls, which the pharmacy students can weigh in on.

“Older people who are interested in learning about falls come, have lunch, hear a great keynote speaker, and then go through various stations where they can have their medications looked at. There are also sitting and standing exercises or tools the PT students administer to detect any potential concerns that might lead to a fall,” explains Huisheere.

Another initiative is “Stepping On,” an evidence-based falls prevention program that was first implemented more than 10 years ago in Dane County. And, the Balance Keys Committee contributes to the community’s fall prevention advocacy. This group of individuals goes out in the community to evaluate community-based classes in order to help older adults along their fall prevention journey by identifying classes that could help them improve balance.

“We have over 25 classes that have been evaluated and given that balance stamp of approval,” notes Hillman.

Fall Prevention in the Home

Home safety is a key part of fall prevention. Something as simple as a throw rug could cause someone to trip and fall. Fall prevention experts advise making sure hallways and rooms are well lit and enlisting help if needing to get to an out-of-reach item. Ladders and step stools are often a recipe for disaster.

“A simple fall when you’re in your twenties, yeah, you may sprain a knee or bruise something. As you get older, those bruises and those sprains become much more catastrophic,” cautions Huisheere.

“The good news is that, as a population, we’re living longer, we’re living healthier lives, and there are things you can do to prevent a fall,” assures Hillman. “It doesn’t have to happen. Sometimes it will, but there are things you can do to lessen that risk.”

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