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NMSU faculty member's research may increase quality of life for older adults

Falling down is a reality that affects the lives of many older adults every day. Falls can be attributed to numerous causes, including age and physical mobility, which is why a current New Mexico State University faculty member developed and introduced a comprehensive fall-risk screening instrument, the first of its kind in the nation.

Older adults participate in a physical activity intervention program to help increase mobility and quality of life. A decrease in mobility is identified as a risk for falling by the Comprehensive Falls Risk Screening Instrument, created by Robert Wood, head of the New Mexico State University College of Education Department of Human Performance, Dance and Recreation. (Courtesy photo)

Robert Wood, head of the College of Education Department of Human Performance, Dance and Recreation, created the Comprehensive Falls Risk Screening Instrument while teaching at Louisiana State University. Jennifer Fabre, an assistant professor at the LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, La., is a co-author of the instrument.

The screening instrument not only identifies those at risk, but also why they are at risk. After a participant's risks are identified, they can then be referred to the correct physician or intervention program. For example, if a person is most at risk of falling down because of a decrease in mobility, they can begin a physical activity program that addresses balance, strength, stability and the core.

"If we can prevent some falls, we can ease the burden on the person, their family and the health care system," Wood said.

Understanding how to intervene is important. Some fall risks cannot be modified, such as age, while other causes, such as vision and physical mobility, can be modified. These causes, along with side effects from medication and diseases, all play a role in increasing the risk of a fall. Because of this, the program also helps identify other public health problems.

During the screening process, several different screening items are utilized, including physical activities, vision tests and a survey. A computer algorithm is then used to score the results and provide a report to the participant. Those administering the screening go over the report with the participant.

When assessing the screening instrument's accuracy, Wood compared the program's results to self-reported history of falls in more than 300 senior adults, and now has prospective data for about 200 senior adults.
Wood said physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of falls.

"A physically active lifestyle is critical for optimizing functioning and quality of life. There's no single better way to maintain function and delay the effects of aging," he said.

In the future, the possibility of training employees or volunteers at places such as community centers and hospitals to administer the screenings may be explored. Although the screening process is not marketed yet, Wood said he would like to develop the program more by adding an interactive Web site health care providers can use to submit data themselves and receive a report.

Wood also said he would like to start administering the screening process in Las Cruces. If interested or for more information about screenings, contact Wood at (575) 646-4065.

The screening program is currently being implemented at senior service organizations in Baton Rouge, La., Shreveport, La., Atlanta, Ga., and Bangor, Maine.