September 23rd marks not only the first day of fall but also Falls Prevention Awareness Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of falls and how to prevent them.
While adults 65 and older are at an elevated risk for falls, these are not a natural part of aging and many falls can be prevented. It is especially important to prevent falls because they pose a significant threat to the health and independence of older adults, including causing serious injuries like a traumatic brain injury or hip fracture as well as being a major cause of unintentional death. Even if a fall does not cause an injury, it can trigger a fear of falling that can result in cutting down on everyday activities and becoming weaker.
The good news is that there are a lot of easy ways to prevent falls and cut down on the anxiety surrounding a fall. Joanie Bowes-Warren, Sr. Director of Quality and Care, notes that the first step to reduce falls is to “be proactive versus reactive.” Here are some tips on how to be proactive and reduce the chance of a fall.
Exercise for Balance and Fall Prevention
One easy way to prevent a fall is to improve balance. Balance exercises are easy to learn and practice at home and many are available on the Go4Life website. Practicing balance exercises not only helps reduce the possibility of a fall, it can also reduce anxiety by being proactive about any balance issues.
Another great option is to join or start a fall prevention program. These programs are dedicated to providing fall prevention information while also raising awareness.
Talk to Your Doctor
Doctors are a great resource to prevent falls. Bowes-Warren notes that “doctors and medical professionals should look over your medications regularly to make sure that they aren’t a contributing factor.” It’s important to pay particular attention to opioid painkillers, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and sedatives.
Doctors can also help by performing annual vision tests, checking for foot pain and proper footwear, and being a great source of knowledge on what other changes can prevent falls. If necessary, they can also assist in finding the correct walking aid.
Make Your Home Safe
Preventing falls in the home can be as easy as making sure that floor space is clear and rooms are well lit. A cluttered floor increases the possibility of tripping and falling, so be sure to clear the floor and arrange furniture so there is plenty of room for walking.
Railings and grab bars can ease movement up and down the stairs as well as making it easier to move in and out of a bathtub or shower. Good lighting makes navigation easier and is especially important on stairs and in hallways. Even when at home, it can be helpful to use a cane or walker to ensure stability. It is also important to put essential items where they are easy to reach since straining for something that is out of reach can easily tip one off balance.
Make Smart Choices
A number of falls can be prevented by taking the time to make smart choices. “Be cognizant that there are a lot of fall hazards and make sure to look at your surroundings and make sure that it is safe” says Bowes-Warren.
One of the easiest ways to prevent a fall is to take some time before standing to make sure that your feet are under you and that you are not light headed. Giving yourself the opportunity to make sure that you are ready before you stand up can both reduce anxiety and the likelihood of a fall.
If there are any tasks that require climbing a ladder or stepladder, ask for help. One resource is the Rotary Home Team, which schedules volunteers from local Rotary clubs to do minor home repairs such as changing lightbulbs, smoke alarm batteries, or other tasks.
Finally, be aware of how alcohol’s effect is different depending on age and steer away from drinking alcohol to excess.
As Bowes-Warren notes “you have to know yourself.” Being aware of personal abilities and limitations is crucial to making the right adjustments to prevent a fall. These steps are a great starting point but it is important to consider them in respect to your personal situation to decide what is relevant and will provide the most help.
Download a handout of tips and resources here.
Annette Balter, Covia’s Director of Senior Resources for Contra Costa County, was recently named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise for her work in developing the Rotary Home Team program throughout the Bay Area.
Rotary Home Team sends teams of Rotarians into their community to provide free, basic home maintenance and repairs to older adults. It was created by Hays Englehart, a member of the Lamorinda Sunrise Rotary, who was inspired by the time spent with his own father going through the list of small repairs that needed to be done when Englehart came to visit.
“He’d sit there with a glass of wine and he’d be the supervisor. After my dad died, I kind of missed that. And I said, ‘There’s got to be other seniors out there that need this service. They don’t have a son or neighbor to be there. Let me check into that.’ Sure enough, there was a huge need.”
At a holiday dinner, Englehart shared his idea with his cousin, Terry Englehart, who worked for Covia (then called Episcopal Senior Communities) as the original creator of Well Connected. “I asked ‘What do you think?’ She said, ‘That’s a great idea! Let me put you in touch with some people.’ And that’s where it started.”
In 2010, Rotary Home Team launched in Contra Costa County. “The very first time was a cold February day. I remember it like yesterday,” says Englehart. “I was trying to guess what we would need to take with us. I took some basic hand tools and said we’d figure it out as we go. So we went, and I think we had three or four requests and the learning process started.”
Repairs can range from fixing a leaky toilet to changing smoke alarm batteries to making sure doors move freely. Annette Balter explains, “Rotary Home Team literally keeps the lights on for older adults who can’t change lightbulbs in their high ceilings! Fixing little things around the home is a unique service for people who aren’t able to do these jobs themselves any longer, and for whom the cost of hiring someone is prohibitive.”
But Englehart says, “The most interesting thing is the people, not what we’re fixing. Because half of HOME Team we’ve found is just visiting with the seniors, talking with them, learning about their friends and family and how long they’ve been there.”
From its first club, Rotary Home Team has expanded to 23 throughout California, ranging from Weaverville to Encinitas. Covia’s role is to support the 17 clubs in its service area, providing program administration, follow up, support, and outreach.
Balter has conducted outreach and made presentations to many local Rotary Clubs over the past two and a half years, expanding the program in Contra Costa County from 5 clubs to 13. But she wants to see more growth in the future. “I would love to expand the program in each of the seven Bay Area counties that Covia serves,” she says.
Balter’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by Rotary. “Our Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise presented Annette Balter our most prestigious award, a Paul Harris Fellowship, for her superior service to the Rotary Home Team cause,” says Englehart. “Annette has worked diligently with us for many years and the Home Team program has grown exponentially directly due to her efforts. The award is the highest award a Rotary Club can bestow on a Non-Rotarian and it doesn’t happen very often.”
And this growth is having a real impact. In 2017 in Contra Costa County alone, Rotary HOME Team provided 318 visits to 244 seniors. This year, with new clubs involved, Englehart says, “I’m estimating we’re visiting about 100 seniors every two months. That’s 600 a year. You do the math. That’s the kind of impact that is pretty quantifiable.”
But the impact also comes down to the individuals they serve. “Our oldest participant in the program is a 103 year old woman in Walnut Creek,” says Balter. “She calls every time we have a Rotary Home Team work day. The volunteers love visiting her!”
Englehart agrees. “I don’t tell people how to fix things. They’re supposed to know that. But here’s how we talk to our seniors. That’s why you’re going out. We want you to be able to do that. Each Rotarian that goes out there and sees that and walks away, they have that very positive feeling. We’ve done something. We didn’t just replace a battery. We really helped.”
If your Rotary club is interested in participating in Rotary Home Team, please email email@example.com. For more information, visit the Covia Rotary Home Team webpage at https://covia.org/services/rotary-home-team/ or the Rotary Home Team website at http://www.rotaryhometeam.com/.
To observe National Assisted Living Week, Laura Darling, Senior Director of Communications, talked to some of our staff to explain more about this misunderstood part of community life.
LD: What do you wish people knew about Assisted Living?
Barb Fischer, Director of Resident Health Services, St. Paul’s Towers: Many people think that Assisted Living refers to a nursing home. I want people to realize that Assisted Living communities are just like Independent Living communities, except assistance of different levels can be provided in their apartment and staff are available 24/7.
Lucy L. Ascalon, RN, Assistant Director of Resident Health Services & Assisted Living Manager, San Francisco Towers: I wish people knew more about Assisted Living, how we take care of people and what other services we provide as a whole.
Charmaine Verador, Director of Resident Health Services, Los Gatos Meadows: One question that always comes up is “Do I have to share a room?” Our assisted living residents, just like independent living residents have their own apartments that they enjoy privately.
Our assisted living residents mingle and socialize with independent living residents because really, there is not much difference. They have the same apartment settings, go to the same dining room and activities as they can tolerate. Residents in assisted living are only getting assistance so that they can continue with their daily lives.
In Assisted Living we do not take over everything. We personalize our care according to what they need. For example if the resident is still able to shower but will need medication management, then we encourage their independence on the shower task and assist with their medications.
LD: My sense is a lot of people are afraid of moving from Independent Living to Assisted Living. What would you like people who feel that way to know about Assisted Living?
Barb Fischer: This is totally true! I always joke about our independent living residents hiding when they see me coming down the hall as they are fearful I want to move them. I really don’t have that desire at all! I want the residents to stay in their apartments as long as possible and have help there if they need it. That is the great thing about the whole community being licensed, which allows residents to receive care or assistance in their Independent Living apartment just like Assisted Living. It gives us the ability to provide assistance in their apartment for longer periods of time.
Lucy L. Ascalon: I think the reason basically that they are afraid of moving to Assisted Living is that they believe they will give up being independent. But I would like the residents to know that we also can extend their being independent by assisting them and keeping them safe and sound, by having somebody 24/7 that checks with them all shift.
Charmaine Verador: Residents feel like they are losing their independence when they move to Assisted Living. But when a resident needs assistance, it is because they have a hard time safely completing some but not all of their activities of daily living. Most of the time, it takes all their energy and effort to accomplish one task that in the end they are no longer able to do anything else for the day because they are too tired. For example, I have a resident that took 2 hour showers because he had a hard time reaching over, getting in and out of the shower, and picking his clothes from the closet. When he moved to Assisted Living, it seems that he had more energy walking to the dining room for meals, and he gets his shower done faster and more efficiently. He is able to go to activities and has thrived well in Assisted Living – better than when he was in Independent Living. He now also appears worry free and is enjoying more activities.
LD: How do you support people who make the move from Independent Living to Assisted Living?
Barb Fischer: In the event the move to Assisted Living is necessary, we always look at the pros and what the benefits are to living on a floor with staffing 24 hours a day. Sometimes it makes more sense for the resident to reside in an Assisted Living apartment based on their needs.
Lucy L. Ascalon: We give them our 100% support in any way we can.
Charmaine Verador: Although it is not required by licensing, we have a nurse 24 hours that checks on the residents when needed. Once they move to Assisted Living, the nurse would visit them more frequently in the beginning just to make sure that their needs are met and that they are settling well. I also visit them during the first day or first few days to see how they settled in.
We have continuity of care meeting every week and we talk about the care of the resident that has just moved to Assisted Living (i.e. are they adjusting well, etc.). During monthly meetings, the staff contribute their feedback and observation about new resident in Assisted Living and we come up with an action plan if there is a need. If needed, we follow up with a care conference. We also check in with the family and see if there is anything else we can do.
LD: What else would you like to share about your work or about Assisted Living in your community?
Barb Fischer: I believe the key to creating a happy assisted living community is letting the residents be involved in their care, keep them as independent as we can for as long as possible, and consistent communication with families. For the families, it’s all about the details. As long as we get the details right and our resident feels safe and secure, we are good!
Lucy L. Ascalon: For me I love what I do, I love serving people and I feel productive every day knowing that I am able to help the staff and the residents.
When the summer session of Well Connected begins on Monday, July 9th, it will include a new season of virtual visits to museums throughout the United States in a series called Museums at Home.
Amber Carroll, Director of Well Connected, remembers attending a program with the Oakland Museum. “I was blown away by how amazingly descriptive, fun, and educational a virtual tour could be. The participants loved it! At that moment I started fantasizing about creating a Museums Without Walls program. When Katie [Wade, Assistant Director of Well Connected] came on board, she made my dream a reality.”
And the reality is powerful for participants. Carroll explains, “Imagine how crowded the Art Institute of Chicago was for the John Singer Sargent exhibit this past spring! Museums at Home provides the opportunity to view exhibits without travel, without crowds, without admission fees, and without sore feet. Because we additionally train docents about accessibility for low-vision and blind participants, the experience really feels like you’re there without any of the hassles.”
This session’s museum visits include exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the South Carolina State Museum, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Wade says, “Some participants remember visiting these museums with their children, or learning about an artist in school, or spending hours in a particular museum and they value the opportunity to recreate those experience in a new, more accessible way. Others have felt a shift in how they view important moments in American history. Some are newly exploring art and find it meaningful to be able to ask questions of the docent and other participants. There’s a little something for all.”
She continues, “Museums at Home reminds me that art is such a powerful tool for personal growth – it sparks new ways of thinking, innovation, and brings people together.”
Well Connected is a Covia Community Services program. To find out more about Well Connected, visit https://covia.org/services/well-connected/. You can download the current catalog here to learn more about Museums at Home and the many other programs, support groups, and educational sessions offered by Well Connected.