By Beverley L. Laubert, Director, Ohio Department of Aging
Five years ago, under the direction of Governor John Kasich, the Department of Aging engaged an array of state and local partners to form the state’s largest coordinated and collaborative effort to prevent falls among older adults.
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths among Ohioans age 65 and older. Older Ohioans make up 16 percent of our population but account for more than 85 percent of fatal falls among Ohioans. STEADY U Ohio was created to address these trends.
STEADY U involves partners from state government agencies, regional and local governments, social and aging services agencies, and private-sector businesses, such as retailers, health care providers, pharmacies and more. Since its launch in September 2013, the initiative has worked to increase awareness of older adult falls, encourage businesses and communities to consider falls prevention in their planning and services, and expand the state’s capacity for proven, community-based falls prevention programs.
The STEADY U Ohio website is a clearinghouse of falls prevention information and resources, featuring an interactive falls risk self-assessment tool, tips for individuals and families to make their homes safer and adopt habits to reduce risk, and resources for businesses and service providers to help those they serve to stay on their feet. We also made a falls risk assessment standard practice for anyone seeking Medicaid long-term care services.
We expanded the state’s capacity to offer the evidence-based “A Matter of Balance” program in all 88 Ohio counties, supported by Ohio’s area agencies on aging. “A Matter of Balance” is an 8-session workshop that teaches participants active strategies to communicate with their health care providers, safely increase their physical activity and generally reduce their fear of falling. We are also working with the Ohio Older Adult Falls Prevention Coalition on many initiatives, including promoting tai chi and other proven interventions.
For several years, we have partnered with pharmacies around the state to offer free falls-related medicine reviews to spot potential risk factors and arm consumers with information to discuss with their doctors. In April of this year, with the support of the Ohio Pharmacists Association, more than 400 pharmacies, including all 249 Ohio Walgreens locations and more than 100 Kroger pharmacy locations, held falls prevention events to raise awareness and link customers to resources to be safer and healthier at home. Walgreens was so impressed with the effort that they partnered with us again in August.
We have been blessed with wonderful partners who have helped us get our messages and resources out to more Ohioans. We have worked with the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation and the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants to encourage and empower businesses throughout the state to make their stores and offices falls-free zones, as well as educate consumers and employees to spot and remove falls risks. The Ohio Department of Health has provided health care practitioners around the state with resources to better engage their patients in conversations about falls and incorporate falls risk assessment into their daily practice. Working with the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, we offered a quality improvement project to offer “A Matter of Balance” in several Ohio nursing homes.
For the past four years, we have partnered with dozens of organizations in our “10 Million Steps to Prevent Falls” campaign. “10 Million Steps” raises awareness of the simple things all Ohioans can do to reduce their falls risk by encouraging all Ohioans to contribute at least one mile toward a statewide goal of 4,000 miles or 10 million steps. Community partners include area agencies on aging, local health departments, senior centers, and senior living communities, but also some you might not expect, like local schools, hospitals, and businesses. We’ve engaged more than 10,000 Ohioans and logged more than 90 million steps to date, and are set to have our most successful campaign yet this year.
We’re proud of all these and other accomplishments of the STEADY U Ohio initiative, but we still have much work to do. Our population is aging, and the risk of falls and fall-related injuries increases with age. Our state simply cannot afford to ignore this problem – the estimated cost of falls in Ohio is $1.9 billion annually, or $5.2 million each day! I invite you to visit the STEADY U Ohio website to learn more about the initiative and start making changes to your home, health, and habits to be a safer, steadier you!