When Colerain Township invited senior citizens to a Fall Prevention 101 class, most of those who attended reported falling in the past. This wasn’t surprising. Colerain’s rate of falls per 100,000 residents is higher than the county average.
“Falls are what the elderly call for help about most often,” said Jennifer Ploeger, paramedic and administrative training assistant with the Colerain Township Fire Department. “In fact, many people fall multiple times.”
The department decided to take action. “Nursing homes, hospitals, and home health care agencies are all involved in fall prevention,” Jennifer said. “But fire departments, where we have contact with people who fall all the time, were not doing anything to help solve the problem.”
With support from Hamilton County Public Health, Assistant Fire Chief Will Mueller and Lauren Stenger from UC Health developed a Fall Prevention program. Throughout the program’s first year, Jennifer reviewed each of the township’s 8000 emergency runs. She identified 134 residents who suffered a fall and met the program’s criteria. They were contacted within one week of the fall to set up a home visit.
The department conducted 42 home visits in the first year of the program. Medics looked at risk factors in the home, performed tests, and completed questionnaires to assess the resident’s fall risk. Depending on their risk level, participants were encouraged to attend free Tai Chi classes (sponsored by UC) or instructed on appropriate exercises to do at home. Tai Chi is one of the most effective exercises to prevent falls.
Residents were also guided on changes to make the home safer. Jennifer said people often overlook things like poor lighting and rugs and clutter that can be tripped over. If the resident agrees, the Fire Department gets the fall victim’s family involved. “Older folks are often resistant to this,” Jennifer said. “But we explain that the purpose is to help them stay in their home.”
Staying in their home safely and as long as possible is what the Fall Prevention program is all about. “People have the idea that when they get old they’re going to fall, that it’s normal,” Jennifer said. “That’s not the case.”
Thanks to the Colerain Fire Department, older residents are learning to prevent falls and live more safely in their homes.