UCHealth is offering a new, virtual fall prevention program for southern Colorado adults ages 50 and older.
The free, four-week program – Aging with Independence and Mobility (AIM) – started Feb. 5 in Teller County. Initial participants include five residents who view the classes via Zoom in their homes and four residents who view the classes at UCHealth Pikes Peak Regional Hospital.
Each hour-long class will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. on four consecutive Fridays. The next set of classes will begin March 5 in Cheyenne County. One or two classes will be held each month at locations throughout southern Colorado for the remainder of 2021.
“We’re hoping to reach at least 100 participants this first year,” said Lori Morgan, a Trauma Outreach and Injury Prevention Specialist at Memorial Hospital.
UCHealth is now accepting applications for enrollment in the virtual fall prevention program. To start the enrollment process or receive more information about the AIM program, click here. You may also email UCHealth at InjuryPrevention@UCHealth.org or call (719) 365-2872.
Among older adults, falls are a leading cause of injury, disability, and death. Each year, more than one out of four people ages 65 and older experience a fall and more than 3 million of them are treated at emergency departments for fall injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The AIM program is intended for southern Colorado residents ages 50 and up who live independently, are high functioning and dementia-free, but at increased risk of falls.
UCHealth is making a special effort to reach rural, underserved and vulnerable older adults.
To initially assess the risk of falling, UCHealth asks three simple questions:
- Do you feel unsteady when standing or walking?
- Have you fallen in the past year?
- Do you worry about falling?
“If people answer yes to any of these questions, they’re at risk,” Morgan said.
A home visit to determine fall risk
Prior to the start of classes, a UCHealth staff member visits the home of potential candidates to drop off an information packet. He or she conducts a home safety inspection for tripping and falling hazards such as poor lighting, loose throw rugs, and stairways that have no color contrast between rises and landings.
Modifications such as fluorescent tape or paint can be applied to stairways on the spot.
Arrangements also can be made to give participants assistive devices such as canes, grab bars, and special shoes for walking on snow and ice. For people who need technology assistance to view the AIM classes, UCHealth staff can provide an iPad and Zoom training.
During the home visit, participants also undergo two baseline fall evaluation tests.
AIM is made possible by a $61,000 grant from the NextFifty Initiative, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to improving and sustaining quality of life for Colorado residents in their second 50 years. The program is part of a research project supported by the UCHealth Memorial Injury Prevention and Research Institute (MIPRI).
UCHealth chose Teller County as the launch site for AIM because it has the highest incidence of falls outside of El Paso County in southern Colorado. Pikes Peak Regional Hospital was selected as a host location for in-person classes because many remote areas of the county have no Wi-Fi access.
“If you live in Teller County between Florissant and Cripple Creek on Teller County Road 1, there’s no cell service,” Morgan said.
To expand access to remote residents, most AIM classes will have host locations. For example, Keefe Memorial Hospital in Cheyenne Wells is offering in-person, socially distant classes for residents of Cheyenne County.
The first two AIM classes are led by a physical therapist who demonstrates a home exercise program to improve balance and strength. Participants also learn practical skills such as how to safely get up from a fall and manage stairs, curbs, and inclement weather.
After the classes, participants are instructed to perform the balance exercises daily and the strength exercises every other day while gradually increasing each exercise’s intensity and number of repetitions.
The third class is led by a vision expert who explains the hazards associated with deteriorating eyesight and how better lighting can make a home safer.
“Vision affects your risk of falling, especially if you have macular degeneration, glaucoma, or very low vision,” Morgan said. “If you’re getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, it’s important to have a light on so you can see.”
The fourth class is led by a pharmacy manager who discusses the crucial role that medications can play in increasing the risk of falls.
At Memorial Hospital, about 30% of emergency room visits experienced by older adults are caused by what Morgan called “polypharmacy.”
“People are falling because of medication side effects or because they’ve made a mistake or error in taking the medication,” she said. “Sometimes they have multiple doctors prescribing medications and one doctor is not talking to the other doctor. Or they’ve been given a medication they’re allergic to.”
AIM participants are advised to rely on one source, such as a primary care provider or community pharmacist, to review and manage all of their prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and vitamin and herbal supplements.
“We’re going to try to reduce those medications if we can,” Morgan said. “After age 70, the body just doesn’t eliminate medications as efficiently as it used to. So doses should actually be less in some cases.”
Blood-pressure medications may be especially likely to cause dizziness and light-headedness that lead to falls. “People sometimes get on a blood-pressure medication at age 60 and stay on the same dosage until age 80,” Morgan said. “Maybe that’s not necessary after age 70 or 75.”
The AIM program is an outgrowth of a long time, traditional UCHealth program called Stepping On https://www.uchealth.org/services/community-health/stepping-on-program/.
“That’s our in-person participation fall-prevention program that is evidence-based,” Morgan said. “Stepping On has just allowed us in the last month to become retrained to do virtual fall prevention.”
“Even in a pandemic, there are people falling,” she added. “Nobody wants to come to an in-person class if they’re a vulnerable, older adult, especially if they’re immunocompromised.”
After participants complete the classes, they undergo two additional fall-evaluation tests. They’re also surveyed after three, six and 12 months to see how they’re doing, if they’re still performing the exercises, and if they’ve fallen.
“We’ll find what works and what doesn’t work,” Morgan said.
If the results are positive, Morgan is hopeful that AIM will receive a second year of funding so it can expand its reach in southern Colorado.