Such simple things can make the difference between well being and painful injury that can spell the end of independent living: things like handrails in a bathroom, smoother floor coverings, checking medications that cause dizziness, or easy exercises to enhance balance.
Those are some of the measures Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey has provided in the homes of its frail and elderly clients. Now it is also offering and installing night lights, thanks to funding that has come through its Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities/LINKS program.
The agency provides NORC/LINKS services to clients in the Elmora section of Elizabeth and the Vauxhall section of Union, all designed to help them remain safely in their own homes. The funding was acquired from the federal government by Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Dist.7), responding to a request from the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.
“We see how many fewer hospital visits are made by people covered by the fall prevention program,” said director of nursing services Karen Winters. “The difference is really dramatic.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three seniors experiences a serious fall each year; around 11,000 die as a result of a fall. In a survey a couple of years ago by JFS, 45 percent of the 700 surveyed had fallen at least once in the previous year and had to seek hospital treatment.
By contrast, in the first year of its fall prevention program, not one of the 100 people given the home adjustments and guidance on safety had had a serious fall.
The last week of September was officially dubbed Fall Prevention Week, and Winters grasped the opportunity to highlight the agency’s prevention services. Funding is an issue, and grants have become harder to obtain, even for such unquestionably cost-effective programs.
The agency has approximately 150 frail elderly clients who receive home health care and housekeeping assistance from a team of aides who work under the supervision of social workers. Nurses also make periodic visits to the clients’ homes. A safety assessment of those homes has become standard procedure, and the aides report any changes, or signs of possible injury.
“We do a lot of education, with the clients and their family members or caregivers,” Winters said. Sometimes benefits can come from something as simple as coaching a person to breathe more deeply before standing up, so that they don’t get light-headed. Or it might be time to have their vision checked, or to get a cane that is a better height. The agency also runs Tai chi classes for seniors, to improve muscle tone and help them get steadier on their feet.
The education component applies to professionals as well as clients. Winter said that Kathy Geller of the New Jersey chapter of the Arthritis Foundation will visit its Westfield Ave. headquarters in Elizabeth later this month to discuss fall prevention techniques with the staff.
“Sometimes,” Winters said, “the most important thing is to change people’s mindset — that nothing can be done about the difficulties they’re having. It’s just not true. And if they can be made safer in their homes, they might be able to stay in them four or five years longer.”