Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community

Peer helps older adults avoid falls

Spring 2008

Play eases the anxiety of Bernard Dannenberg's young patient.

Volunteer Barbara Gordon (right) provides follow-up support for Diane Finch.

Barbara Gordon, an 83-year-old resident of Channing House in Palo Alto, was a patient advocate and long-term-care ombudsman before she retired from Stanford Hospital several years ago. Now she volunteers to help prevent falls among older adults, for a fall can result in injuries that become a critical turning point in their lives.

“Having Barbara is fantastic for the program,” said Ellen Corman, MRA, injury prevention coordinator and director of Stanford Hospital’s Farewell to Falls program. “I have volunteers who are college students, 20-somethings, which is great. But Barbara can bring her own experience to the table, and it’s invaluable.”

More than 1 million older adults in California fall, trip or slip each year, with 200,000 of those falls resulting in injury. The Trauma Service and Emergency Department at Stanford Hospital often treats people who have been injured in a fall, but older adults may require services beyond the initial emergency room visit.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that older adults who have fallen previously or who stumble frequently are two to three times more likely to fall within the next year. Research shows that regular exercise, a review of medications and making modifications to the home can prevent falls and help older adults maintain independence.

Stanford Hospital studied the research and established the Farewell to Falls program to bring the message of fall prevention to older adults. The free program is offered to adults 65 years and older in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties who have recently experienced a fall.

The initiative emphasizes prevention, connecting each participant with a trained occupational therapist who conducts two home visits. The home visits identify potential problems and include suggestions that can decrease the chance of falling, such as adding a grab bar to help with getting in and out of the shower. The therapist provides each participant with resources to help improve strength and balance, including a home exercise video, and creates a list of all of the medications the patient is taking, which is reviewed by a pharmacist to ensure that the prescriptions are not contributing to fall risk.

After the home assessments have been conducted, program participants receive regular follow-up calls from volunteers like Gordon. “Just reminding them helps out,” said Gordon. “It helps them be more conscientious. They think, ‘Hey, I’d better be more careful.’”

Diane Finch, a 75-year-old Menlo Park resident who received Gordon’s follow-up calls for a year, agrees. “She has a calm about her that tells people that she’s had this experience, that she’s not judgmental. For me, that was important—it was a good balance.”

For more information about the Farewell to Falls program, please call (650) 724-9369.

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