As the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in adults over the age of 65, falls can greatly impact the health and well-being of older adults. The age-adjusted fall death rate increased by 41 percent from 2012 to 2021, while falls that don’t result in death can still cause traumatic brain injuries, hip fractures and decreased independence and quality of life.
In response to this critical health issue, Marymount University and its Center for Optimal Aging were recently awarded a third round of funding – totaling $548,298 that will cover a timeframe extended to April 2027 – from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living. Alongside its many community partners, Marymount will continue this important work of helping to reduce the number of falls and fall-related injuries in the region, expanding falls prevention programs to underserved communities and enhancing their capacity for long-term sustainability.
“While falls among older adults are unfortunately common, we know that for the most part, they are predictable and preventable. Falls are not an inevitable part of getting older,” said Dr. Sara Pappa, Assistant Professor of Health and Human Performance at Marymount and the principal investigator and coordinator of the Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance. “By performing specific strength and balance exercises, making their homes safer and getting regular health check-ups, older adults can significantly reduce their risk of falling.”
Joining Dr. Pappa as co-investigators are Dr. Cathy Elrod (Professor of Physical Therapy), Dr. Patricia Heyn (Founding Director of Marymount’s Center for Optimal Aging), Dr. Uma Kelekar (Associate Professor of Health Care Management) and Dr. Rita Wong (Associate Vice President of Research).
“Marymount University has been a beacon of excellence in falls prevention programming, services and research, dedicating over a decade to community-based falls education and training programs that directly impact and safeguard our community,” Dr. Heyn explained. “Through these efforts, the Center for Optimal Aging is not only safeguarding the well-being of our community but also solidifying our University’s standing as a trailblazer in falls prevention research. Together, we are shaping a safer future for our older adults, and our commitment remains unwavering.”
The latest round of funding will help older adult-serving community groups in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., with implementing two established evidence-based falls prevention programs – Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL), a strength, balance and fitness program for older adults who are at low-to-moderate risk for falling, and Matter of Balance, which features small group sessions led by a trained facilitator designed to reduce the fear of falling and familiarize older adults with balanced-focused exercise activities.
To date, these programs have reached over 6,000 older adults. During the third round of funding, Marymount faculty and community partners are focusing on reaching Black, Hispanic and lower-income communities by working to:
- Expand the activities of Marymount’s regional training office that prepares lay leaders/coaches to run evidence-based falls prevention programs.
- Provide support to community organizations in establishing falls prevention programs.
- Expand the referral network for falls prevention programs.
- Build the fall prevention program as an integral part of Marymount’s Center for Optimal Aging.
For more information on falls, prevention programs or how to get involved, please visit the Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance website.