Marymount University Receives Federal Grant For Older Adult Falls Prevention Programs in Northern Virginia

Marymount University was one of eight organizations nationally that recently received a two-year $480,000 grant from the Administration on Aging, a program division within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), to embed evidence-based falls prevention programs across Northern Virginia. Both Inova Health Systems and Goodwin House are major partners with significant roles in the grant implementation.  

The goal of the grant is to establish fall prevention programs at more than 60 locations across Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, and Loudon County that reach approximately 1,400 older adults at risk of falling. A network of agencies and organizations will also be built that can sustain and continue to increase the reach of these programs once the grant is over.

“Falls in older adults are a major public health issue,” said Dr. Rita Wong, Marymount’s interim provost and the primary investigator on this grant. “You can’t prevent all falls, but you can drastically reduce the number of older adults who fall, and particularly the number who fall and get hurt.”

Staying physically active and exercising regularly are key contributors to minimizing the risk of falling. Specific types of exercise have been demonstrated to be effective in decreasing this risk. These “evidence -based” programs tend to be more structured and require specific training of the exercise leaders, which can be hard to incorporate into general community exercise programs that run on small budgets. Additionally, older adults are often hesitant to exercise, unrealistically fearing that increased activity will cause them to fall. The grant will provide the support structure for establishing a training center, building the number of available programs, and assuring the programs are sustained over time. 

“This is where the expertise and reach of our partners will really come in,” Wong said. “It’s a unique collaboration between a university, a hospital system and a continuing care provider plus the active participation of many public and private organizations across Northern Virginia.”

Faculty from Marymount’s Physical Therapy Program and Health Education and Promotion Program in the Malek School of Health Professions bring high levels of expertise in falls prevention and health education. The University will serve as a training and assessment center for falls prevention program leaders.

Inova, a not-for-profit healthcare system serving more than two million people each year throughout the Washington, D.C., metro area, will use its extensive infrastructure to help establish and embed a sustained falls prevention network that continues to advance all aspects of falls prevention efforts in Northern Virginia for years to come.

Goodwin House, a faith-based nonprofit continuing care retirement community serving older adults in the Northern Virginia suburbs, has committed to serving as a major anchor in coordinating the efforts to seek out and coordinate the establishment of the 60 fall prevention programs during this two-year period.

“The federal government has invested a lot of money in research to develop evidence-based programs and strategies, but now we need to find ways to get them out into the community,” Wong said. “The vast majority of older adults injured in falls are 65 and older and on Medicare. The more falls we can prevent, the less Medicare money being spent. Last year alone, over 2.600 older adults in Northern Virginia were hospitalized because of a fall with the average hospital cost being $31,532.”

Head injury and hip fractures are major falls-related causes of disability and decreased quality of life. 

The grant will help Northern Virginia older adult community groups establish one or more evidence-based falls prevention programs:

    • Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL), a strength, balance and fitness program for older adults who are at low-to-moderate risk for falling.

    • Matter of Balance includes small group sessions led be a trained facilitator designed to reduce the fear of falling and familiarize older adults to balance-focused exercise activities.

    • Otago Exercise Program is a series of strength and balance exercises delivered by a physical therapist to older adults at a high risk for falling.

    “All three programs are based on solid research and have been identified as being effective,” Wong said. “At the end of two years, we hope to have touched a great deal of the Northern Virginia area. We not only want to get these programs out there, but to find ways to continually fund them and keep them going.”

    In addition to Marymount, Inova and Goodwin House, other founding members of the Northern Virginia Network for Falls Prevention include the following public agencies:

    Arlington Senior Adult Programs, Fairfax County Area Agency on Aging, City of Falls Church, Alexandria Division of Aging Services, Loudon County Area Agency on Aging, Fairfax County Adult Day Health Care.

    These private organizations are also included: Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, Arlington Neighborhood Villages, Lake Barcroft Village Inc., Mount Vernon at Home, Shepherd’s Center of Oakton-Vienna, At Home Alexandria, Shepherd’s Center of Fairfax-Burke, Virginia Hospital Center, Medstar Health System.