Connie was doing pretty well for somebody in her 80s. She lived in a gorgeous senior living community where she had friends, food she liked and card games she enjoyed. Sure she had trouble getting up from her chair, and she shuffled a little more than she used to. Then she had a fall. In an instant, her world changed.
This all could have been prevented. Even though there was a physical therapy department in her building, like many seniors, Connie thought it was for people who had a real problem or had already taken a fall.
A recent study by the Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy (APTA) titled Older Adults’ Perceptions Regarding the Role of Physical Therapists in Fall Prevention: A Qualitative Investigation (Journal of Geriatr Physical Therapy, March 23, 2021) tries to find out why people don’t use therapy when it’s available to them. The researchers observe that while evidence-based interventions are available to prevent falls, older adults’ interest in reducing their likelihood of falling is less than expected. And, even more surprising to me, few older adults take steps to reduce fall risk even after they have a fall.
The research revealed that seniors not joining a fall prevention program didn’t see the need – for two very different reasons. Half thought they didn’t need the help. Part of their rationale for thinking this is based on how seniors have different definitions of what successful aging and independence looks like, and I’ll discuss this more in future posts. The other half that didn’t join the program thought they were beyond help.
Based on this research it’s clear that the PT/OT community is not doing enough to educate seniors and their loved ones about the importance and availability of falls prevention. A robust effort is required by Odom and our peers to make this issue front and center because the problem is only growing in scale.
The importance of falls prevention can’t be overstated. Falls not only impact the well-being of seniors, but are also a tremendous cost burden. Research in the report The CDC Injury Center’s Response to the Growing Public Health Problem of Falls Among Older Adults (American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, February 20, 2015) shows the importance of more aggressive efforts in falls prevention. The number of older adult fatal falls is projected to reach 100,000 per year by 2030 with an associated cost of $100 billion. By incorporating falls prevention measures, physicians can reduce future falls by nearly 25%.
I think it’s important to expand the partnerships between therapy groups and organizations directly serving seniors at home or in long-term care. We need to ensure that there is an understanding by not only the residents of seniors housing communities, but all those involved in their care, that Falling is NOT a normal part of aging. We need to introduce a comprehensive educational component about therapy and falls prevention, and make it available to anyone.