The North Carolina Center for Health & Wellness (NCCWH) at UNC Asheville has received a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to expand access to and utilization of evidence-based falls prevention programs across 18 counties in Western North Carolina. The grant, which will fund the falls-prevention initiative for three years, is administered through the federal Administration on Aging within the Administration for Community Living at DHHS.
Falls by older adults are an increasing cause of injuries, deaths and mounting health care expenditures in the state and region. North Carolina ranks ninth in population age 60 and over, and 22 percent of WNC’s population is age 65 and above. Falls by older adults lead to more than 900 deaths annually in the state and the financial cost is substantial and growing with more than 75,000 emergency room and hospital stays and more than $500 million in hospital costs in 2014 alone.
“The good news is that there are evidence-based approaches to reducing the risk of falls in older adults, and with this grant, we can bring access to those programs to more people in Western North Carolina,” said Stacey Millett, executive director of the NCCHW. “These programs – demonstrated as effective by research – include tai chi classes and the A Matter of Balance Program, in which participants learn to view falls and fear of falling as controllable, set realistic goals to increase activity, change their environment to reduce fall risk factors, and exercise to increase strength and balance. We will work with community organizations and health care providers across the 18 WNC counties to expand these programs and create greater awareness of them so more people benefit from the information.”
The partners in this falls prevention effort will include Mission Health Partners with services across the 18 WNC counties, North Carolina Alliance of YMCAs, YMCA of Western NC, Western Carolina University, North Carolina Falls Prevention Coalition, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Aging and Adult Services and Division of Public Health, and the five Area Agencies on Aging covering WNC: High Country Area Agency on Aging (Boone), Land of Sky Area Regional Council Agency on Aging (Asheville), Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging (Sylva), Isothermal Planning & Development Commission Area Agency on Aging (Rutherfordton), and Western Piedmont Council of Governments Area on Aging (Hickory).
The goals of the initiative include serving thousands of older adults with A Matter of Balance (AMOB) programs and Tai Chi for Arthritis (TCA) classes offered by the partner agencies, and developing training protocols to help AMOB and TCA coaches support classes for Mission Health patients.
Additionally, NCCHW and Mission Health will work together to create a “falls prevention pathway” in Mission’s care coordination processes that will help health care providers flag older adults at risk of falls and help them learn about and enroll in the prevention programs. “These programs are demonstrated to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce health costs,” said Millett. “We plan to introduce data protocols to measure the benefits of AMOB and TCA to Mission Health and its patients, which we hope will ensure the sustainability and growth of these programs even after the grant period is completed. The grant will offer NCCHW the opportunity to be a national leader in creating a network of community-based organizations that can support clinical-based care.”
NCCHW is already helping coordinate and support falls prevention for older adults in North Carolina, having established the Healthy Aging NC Resource Center, which began last year with a goal of centralizing support for communication, data management and reporting, and technical assistance for falls prevention activities. To learn more, visit healthyagingnc and unca.