Farewell to Falls: Stanford Hospital Program is Improving the Lives of Older Adults

For Release: April 14, 2008
Media Contact: Scott Leykam
(650) 723-6753

When stroke survivor Diane Finch slipped on a piece of ice and fell to the floor of her Menlo Park kitchen, she didn't think she was losing her mobility. "I thought it was the stroke," she said. "I didn't think there was anything wrong with me."

But she was wrong.  And after a second fall at home, the 74-year-old was ready to take advantage of Farewell to Falls, a program of the Trauma Center at Stanford Hospital & Clinics designed to reduce the kinds of falls suffered by more than 1 million older adults in California each year. One in five of those slips, trips and falls cause injuries, hospitalizing 188 Californians daily.

Research shows that exercising regularly, reviewing medications and making modifications to the home can prevent falls and help older adults maintain independence. But that relatively simple message doesn't always reach older adults. Denial, stigma and the fear of lost independence can all play a role. The Farewell to Falls program tries to overcome those issues.

"The best practice for fall prevention looks at four major areas --- home safety, medical management, physical activity and safe behaviors," says program coordinator Ellen Corman. "The Farewell to Falls program helps seniors assess all of those areas."

Each participant receives two home visits. An occupational therapist travels to the home to evaluate potential problems and suggest solutions - like a grab bar to reduce the chance of falls while getting in and out of the shower. Each participant also receives an instructional video to exercise with three times per week, working on improving strength and balance.

The occupational therapist "showed me exercises, showed me what I didn't do right. I couldn't stand on one foot; I was stunned," Finch said.

The Stanford representative also creates a list of all of the medications the patient is taking and has it reviewed by a pharmacist to ensure that all of the prescriptions don't pose a fall risk. If there is a problem, it is flagged so that the patient can speak with his or her primary physician.

"I have allergies, and I was taking a medication that impairs my physical gait. Nobody had picked up on that, including my doctor," Finch said. "It was a life saver."

In addition to home visits, older adults in the program also receive periodic phone calls from volunteers to see how they're doing. "The phone call - just reminding them - helps out," explains Barbara Gordon, an 83-year-old volunteer who checked on Diane for a year after her fall. "It helps them be more conscientious. They think "~hey, I'd better be more careful'."

Older adults who have fallen previously or who stumble frequently are two to three times more likely to fall within the next year. In addition, 46 percent of Stanford emergency room visits are by older adults and 60 percent of the nation's older adults live alone or with a non-helping spouse.
"Falls are not inevitable - they're preventable," Corman said. "We're hoping that seniors take advantage of this opportunity to participate in a program that can help them to maintain their independence."

Tips to Avoid Tripping or Slipping

  • Remove throw rugs or adhere them to the floor with double-sided tape or special carpet pads
  • Remove electrical cords and other hazards 
  • Pick up animal toys and clutter off the floor 
  • Don't lean on towel bars or furniture for support
  • Consider installing grab bars in the bathtub and by the toilet
  • Use handrails on all stairs
  • Wear non-skid shoes or slippers
  • Keep floors dry
  • Install non-skid surfaces in the shower or tub
  • Check your patio and yard for uneven pavement and other hazards 

About Stanford Hospital & Clinics
Stanford Hospital & Clinics is known worldwide for advanced treatment of complex disorders in areas such as cardiac care, cancer treatment, neurosciences, surgery, and organ transplants. Ranked #16 on the U.S. News and World Report annual list of “America’s Best Hospitals,” Stanford Hospital & Clinics is internationally recognized for translating medical breakthroughs into the care of patients. The Hospital is part of the Stanford University Medical Center, along with the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. For more information, visit http://stanfordhospital.org/.

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