Staying Upright

New interdisciplinary clinic helps people avoid falls

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As people get older, they often struggle to maintain their balance and they are more likely to suffer falls.

A group of medical professionals at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida is working on a program known as the Interprofessional Fall Prevention Clinic to help people overcome the problem of falling down. This is important because people who are prone to falling can face a loss of independence.

Rachelle Dorne, Ed.D., OTR/L, an occupational therapist at Nova Southeastern University serves in the Fall Prevention Clinic and has conducted research studies on the problem of people falling. She was the principal investigator on Balance Broward which studied the problem of people suffering falls.

"We are seeing seniors who self-refer or may be referred by a doctor who works at the clinic. Many of the doctors who work on our team are geriatricians who practice in the Nova Southeastern Fall Prevention Clinic. We are continuing to see seniors."

 The clinic is open about two days a month for a few hours. The inter-professional team features a geriatrician, physical therapist, geropsychologist, a pharmacist, an audiologist, an optometrist, and chaplain. They all work on the assessment process and everyone interacts with the seniors, family members and friends who accompany the patients.

Risk Assessment

The team assesses a person's risk for falls and determines the individual's confidence and balance. "This is related to the fear of falling," said Dorne. "We screen their vision. Sometimes the individual will talk about having vision problems or problems with glasses and have difficulty seeing things."

If a person reports dizziness, an auditory clinician will conduct a balance assessment. A pharmacist will look at the medications a person is using. The pharmacist will look for drug interactions. Before the person comes to the clinic, a health questionnaire is conducted by an occupational therapy student. A physical therapist looks at strength and balance.

"I look for a fear of falling," said Dorne. "I look at how they perform daily living activities. I measure grip strength. I look at how the person is spending their time and their level of activity. We discuss their home environment."

 A geropsychologist looks at memory and mood and a chaplain looks at how a person is feeling and spiritual issues they may be having. 

 "If a person is found to have balance issues, we might recommend a cane or walker. We might recommend a raised toilet seat, shower chair and grab bars," said Dorne.

 Group Encouragement

Mental health is also very important. "We often find that people who are isolated and sad because of their fear of falling should join a therapy or exercise group and try to socialize within that environment. We want to give people a reassurance that they are doing well for their age," said Dorne.

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Patients who attend the clinic have reported being satisfied with the experience.  "They say this is the first time they have been with a group of health professionals who are listening to each other so they don't have to repeat themselves," said Dorne. "Most of the time, they get answers to the questions about why they are falling. We are able to identify possible reasons why they are falling."

Now the Fall Prevention Clinic is exploring possibilities for insurance coverage. "We want to educate the physician community about the importance of what we are doing here and the success we have had," said Dorne. "We also want to do home visits so we can identify potential barriers in the homes of people who are attending the clinic."


David Volz has been a health writer for 25 years. He teaches communications and public  speaking at Broward College and Miami Dade College and lives in Coral Springs,  Fla.



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