BY SARA MIGLIARESE
Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and we are still standing. Or are we? Some of us have been sitting in Zoom meetings for months, missing time in the gym and even the Monday-Friday task of climbing stairs at the office, once thought of as an unfortunate drudgery, but now wondering if we can even climb one flight of stairs and wishing we could please go up and down some stairs! After six months of social isolation and inactivity, some of us are not standing; some are falling, especially older adults who lack physical activity and social contact. According to the CDC, “Falls affect us all—whether personally or someone we love or care about. Every second of every day, an older adult falls. In 2015 alone, more than one in four older adults reported falling, and more than 28,000 older adults died as a result of falls—that’s 74 older adults every day.” We do not know how COVID has impacted these statistics, but the incidence of falls is arguably increasing, a result of decreased physical activity and loss of social contact for many older adults.
Solutions to this potentially new epidemic of falls are few, but not absent. One local university, Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), offers free virtual fall risk screenings using Zoom meetings to measure risk and refer older adults to available virtual balance and exercise classes. Through a grant from the Administration on Community Living and the National Council on Aging, the faculty of the Occupational and Physical Therapy departments at WSSU have provided virtual Zoom fall risk screenings since April 2020, safely guiding older adults through a series of questions and balance tests.
This process determines the risk for falls and helps clinicians in making referrals to virtual fall prevention programs in our community. This WSSU team of therapists has screened over 60 older adults since April, all without any safety incident or major technology obstacles prohibiting older adults from receiving a successful screening.
So, Zoom is not just for business meetings (or even telehealth doctor visits) anymore!
To decide if you or any older adult could benefit from a virtual fall risk screening, you can answer these three questions:
- Have you fallen in the past year?
- Do you feel unsteady when standing or walking?
- Do you worry about falling?
If you or a loved one or friend answer “yes” to any of these three questions, then a fall risk screening would be very beneficial in determining the best plan of action to prevent future falls. Potential solutions to increased fall risk are balance and exercise classes, whether in person or virtual, referrals to physical therapy, vision checks, medication checks, and home assessments for potential safety hazards. A virtual fall risk screening through WSSU can help guide participants in finding the best solutions to their individual fall risk, including free virtual exercise classes taught by WSSU clinicians.
To sign up for a virtual fall risk screening, contact the WSSU Fall Prevention team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Participants will need to have access to laptops, tablets, or phones that contain a camera and can connect to the Internet. Each screening takes about 20 minutes and is free of charge. Participants must also live in North Carolina. If you feel concerned about falls, be encouraged that help is on the way and it looks like a Zoom meeting!