For many aging Americans, the dream of maintaining an active, independent lifestyle while living at home comes crashing down with a fall. Falls are the leading cause of injury, accidental death and premature placement in a nursing home among older adults in the United States.
Now, new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that in-home falls can be reduced by nearly 40% with a community-based program that helps older adults make modifications to their homes such as adding grab bars, shower seating and slip-resistant surfaces in the bathroom, as well as lighting and handrails on staircases.
“Most falls occur at home, and while removing fall hazards in the home has been shown in other countries to reduce the risk of falls, it is not the standard practice in the U.S.,” said senior author Susan Stark,PhD, associate professor of occupational therapy, of neurology and of social work. “This study provides evidence that we can effectively deliver fall-prevention programs via community-based aging services networks rather than a traditional health-care setting,”
“Often, health-care providers have limited time with patients and fall prevention can sometimes be overlooked, especially if we don’t ask about fall risks as part of regular care,” she said.
Published Aug. 31 in the journal JAMA Network Open, the study details a 2015-17 intervention program in St. Louis in which occupational therapists visited the homes of older adults to assess fall risks and provide personalized plans to address them.
“We know that one-fourth to one-third of older adults fall annually and that half of these falls occur in their homes, so it makes sense that simple changes to the home will be effective in reducing falls,” Stark said.
Working in partnership with the St. Louis Area Agency on Aging, a nonprofit group providing nutrition, transportation and other community services, researchers identified 310 older residents at high risk of falling.