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Senior centers cited for program on falls

Senior centers in East Lyme, Groton and Waterford received a national award for a program they created to educate seniors about their risk of falling and engaged community organizations to make home modifications to reduce the chance of falling.

At its conference this spring, the National Council on Aging will present the award, a partnership with CVS Pharmacy that recognizes superior programing for seniors.

Working together to obtain grants, the three organizations set their sights on fall prevention, a major issue for seniors.

"For seniors, falls can be the end of it," said Mary Jo Riley, the senior center supervisor in Groton. "They're very at risk, especially frail seniors, and they could end up at a nursing facility and they may not be able to come out."

The three communities based their program on "Matter of Balance," a course about reducing the risk of falling among senior citizens. But they went a step beyond, expanding the program to include health screenings by the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut and home maintenance work by Habitat for Humanity and Seniors Helping Seniors aimed at reducing the risk of falling in the home, where most falls occur.

"A lot of times people will get the evaluation that says you should do this and this, but they might not be able to do things like install a grab bar, fix the light, replace loose carpet or make other changes," said Sally B. Ritchie, director of senior services in Waterford.

The program began in the fall of 2008, when the eight-week "Matter of Balance" programs were offered at the three community centers. Over the following months, the courses continued and, through home visits, nurses and volunteers helped seniors identify risks in their homes and make necessary changes.

The award includes the cost of attending the NCOA conference this spring and a $1,500 cash award. The centers plan to spend their prize money on more collaborative programming.

"To me, the big news about this was the three towns working together," said Cathy Wilson, East Lyme's senior services coordinator.

Falling facts:

• Falls are responsible for approximately 8,500 hospitalizations each year

• Average direct medical cost per hospitalization is $12,705

• About 70 percent of fall-related hospitalizations are among persons aged 65 years or older

• Older adults have a death rate due to falls that is six times that of the state's average death rate

• At least 30 percent of adults 65 years and older in senior citizen communities fall each year

Source: Connecticut Department of Public Health

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