| At right, Dr. Jane Painter, ECU professor and occupational therapist, checks Marjorie Everett’s vision during ECU's Fall Risk Assessment Clinic. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)
Steady on their feet
ECU team assesses older adults’ risk of falling
By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services
Marjorie Franck can line dance again, a goal she set during rehabilitation after five falls in one year and a hip replacement.
Her comeback began after she was evaluated by a health care team at East Carolina University’s Fall Risk Assessment Clinic in the Frances J. and Robert T. Monk Sr. Geriatric Center. A physical therapist, occupational therapist, pharmacist, social worker, nurse and physician evaluate patients 60 and older for their risk of falls – all during one appointment - and give personalized recommendations to avoid falls.
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related accidental death in older adults. The problem is multi-faceted and crosses many disciplines in the care of older patients. “Here at ECU, we can bring all those disciplines together,” said Dr. Kenneth Steinweg, chairman of family medicine at ECU who evaluates patients in the fall risk clinic.
Screening tests are done for medical conditions, medications, health habits, daily life skills, home safety hazards, vision, cognition, mood, balance, dizziness, foot sensation, leg strength, walking, shoes and walking aids.
“I feel the falls clinic is wonderful,” said Franck, 75, a retired tax preparer who lives in Greenville. “They gave me my life back. I feel like I’ve come a long way.”
|Marjorie Everett completes a timed walking test with ECU assistant professor and physical therapist Dr. Leslie Allison.
Franck received a written summary of her evaluation and steps to prevent future falls. The clinic collaborates with patients’ primary care physicians, who receive a copy of the report. For three months, a social work intern calls once a week to see how each patient is doing and if they are having trouble implementing recommendations.
“I started with a walker, and in June I graduated to not using the walker,” Franck said. “The walker is packed up.”
On a recent weekday, she walked one mile, something she tries to do three to five times each week.
“When I was falling, I was either breaking something or getting stitches,” said Franck, pointing above her eye where she once received 16 stitches. One of those falls was down the back steps of her home. But she has followed the fall clinic’s recommendations for prevention.
“We put in a railing,” she said. “I always have one hand free, and I never, never, never go down the steps without one hand free.”
Statistics show that one-third of people 65 and older and nearly half of people 85 and older fall at least once a year. Without intervention, half of those will fall repeatedly. An estimated 15 percent to 20 percent of falls lead to injury, and 5 percent result in a hip fracture.