Several community organizations team up to offer lots of advice
By Sandra Strieby
Methow At Home (MAH) will host a free senior health fair in the Methow Valley Community Center gym on Friday, Sept. 22. The focus of the “Finding Our Balance” fair is falls prevention, and the event has been planned to coincide with National Falls Prevention Awareness Week, Sept. 18-22.
Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults, and avoiding them can help seniors stay healthy and independent.
“Falls are preventable and do not have to be part of the normal aging process,” said Salyna Gracie, executive director of MAH. “[A] fall can precipitate a downward loss of mobility, independence, socialization, and even lead to death,” she said. “So personal awareness and prevention is key to reducing risks of falling, improving health outcomes and the ability to stay in one’s home.”
The fair’s 16-plus booths will be arranged in four color-coded zones and offer an array of activities and information to help people assess their current situations and learn what they can do to reduce the risk of falls.
Health and nutrition
“One of the reasons falls are so dangerous is that many people don’t realize they’re at risk for falls until it’s too late,” said Erin Cass, who owns Healthy Aging in Wenatchee and has been instrumental in organizing the fair through her involvement with the North Central Region Fall Prevention Coalition, in an email. “As you age it’s important to see your doctor regularly and ask if any of your current or past medical conditions increase your likelihood of falling so they can work with you to develop a fall prevention program.”
In the “red zone,” fairgoers will be able to talk with representatives of Aero Methow Rescue Service, Confluence Health, Family Health Centers, and Liberty Bell Family Medicine. Blood pressure checks, diabetes education, and information about the mental and physical aspects of staying healthy will be on offer.
Home and environment
Houses can be hazardous places, with ordinary things like rugs and pets posing growing dangers as we age. One way to prevent falls is to “evaluate your physical surroundings,” said Hunter Esmiol, a practice manager at Confluence Health, in an email. “What adds to your safety and what are potential hazards? … [A]re there tasks that someone else should do?”
Being safe at home will be the focus of the “green zone,” where people will be able to learn how to assess their homes for safety from occupational therapist Heidi Blackie, hear about MAH’s smoke detector program, and talk with Mallory Brandenburg, Methow Valley caregiver liaison at Jamie’s Place.
AnDee Desrosier of Aging & Adult Care of Central Washington will provide information about programs for safety-enhancing home modifications. Dani Esmiol of Methow Valley Medical Equipment will introduce attendees to durable medical equipment that valley residents can borrow free of charge, and The Lookout Coalition’s Leeann Ferlito will demonstrate how to use the equipment.
Vision, hearing, footwear
Vision, hearing, and medications can all contribute to falls. Nancy Aadland of the Winthrop Kiwanis Club will conduct hearing screenings in the “yellow zone.” “Hearing … relates to fall prevention in a number of ways,” said MAH program director Tracy Sprauer. “People who are experiencing loss of hearing sometimes can start to curtail their outward activities. It’s also harder to hear your pets around you, and that sort of thing.”
Ulrich’s Pharmacy will check medications for any that may contribute to risk factors like lightheadedness or slowed reactions.
Healthy Aging’s Cass notes that vision is important to falls prevention, as well. “Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year,” she recommends, “and be sure to update your eyeglasses, if needed.”
Exercise, strength, balance
Staying active and strong is one key to falls prevention, according to Winthrop Physical Therapy & Fitness (WPT) owner Jenna Kokes. “A common phrase you hear is ‘use it or lose it,’” she said in an email. “We need to challenge our bodies and use them in order to maintain or improve their function.”
In the “blue zone,” representatives of Enhabit Home Health, MAH, Motive Yoga and WPT will be on hand to provide balance and functional assessments and information about improving and maintaining fitness.
The fair will also provide a chance to learn about ongoing and upcoming falls prevention programs in the valley.
MAH board member Jan Kittleson is a retired occupational therapist, and decades of work with seniors led her to recognize the link between preventing falls and MAH’s mission to support seniors in safely aging in place. “We want to age in our homes,” she said. “We don’t want to go to a nursing center. And a primary driver for people leaving their homes has been falls.”
To address that risk, Kittleson started a local falls prevention task force. She talked with health service providers throughout the valley to learn whether they saw falls as a problem. “Everyone that I interviewed said, yes, there’s a problem,” she said.
Through a series of online meetings, task force members identified community education and awareness as a starting point to decrease the risk of falls.
Kittleson’s findings helped MAH direct its energies. The organization’s leaders recognized that “we should be putting a lot of effort into fall prevention because, so often, once something becomes acute … it goes beyond our scope, and we can’t really be of service to that person,” said Sprauer.
That recognition led MAH to partner with the University of Puget Sound’s Doctorate Program in Occupational Therapy. “They did a research project for us on all of the various research-based fall prevention programs,” said Sprauer.
The university researchers identified four programs for MAH to consider. One of them was Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL), which combines physical activity with education about other aspects of staying healthy as we age. Both Aero Methow and MAH now offer the program two days a week at the Twisp Valley Grange hall, and MAH plans to offer it at WPT beginning in October.
Theresa Remsberg, Aero Methow’s community education/injury prevention coordinator, has observed the SAIL program’s results. “I know there has been a reduction in falls within the group that I work with,” she said. “What we’ve also seen in interviewing [participants] is that they’ve either not had a fall that they may have had previously, or they have less fear of falling. They have more confidence in themselves in terms of their ability to ambulate without falling.”
In addition to addressing strength and balance with SAIL, MAH is preparing to introduce a behavior-based program called A Matter of Balance (MOB). Sprauer and Kittleson are receiving MOB training, and expect to offer classes soon. The eight-week course focuses on building new habits “so that people don’t just curtail all their activity,” said Sprauer. “[It’s] really problematic when people curtail activity due to a fear of falling.”
More than a dozen organizations will participate in the Finding Our Balance fair. “This is a way for the community to come in and see not only who Methow At Home is, but to see all of the relationships, the connectivity of the network that we have built working with other agencies in the community,” said Gracie.
The fair represents the kind of collaboration that’s being developed through the Methow Valley Community-Based Long Term Care Network with the support of a recent federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant.
Confluence Health’s Hunter Esmiol also highlighted the role of the community in supporting seniors. “Falls should not be addressed exclusively for health care organizations,” he said in an email. “This is a community event and should have a community response. I see a lot of hands helping in the Methow Valley from various organizations who truly care and try to make a difference.”
Many of those organizations will be present at the Finding Our Balance fair, ready to empower seniors to take charge of their own well-being. The fair starts at 1 p.m. — right after lunch at the Senior Center — and runs until 4 p.m. For more information, call MAH at (509) 996-5844 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.