Grant monies to Fairfield University focus on pressing issues of medication errors and falls for older adults in Bridgeport



Image: NursingFalls and medication errors are growing concerns facing older adults in America.  

Thanks to a $35,161 grant from the Southwestern Community Agency on Aging, Fairfield University's School of Nursing will implement two new community outreach programs that aim to curtail those problems for Greater Bridgeport area residents.

According to the Connecticut Collaboration for Fall Prevention, falls were the primary cause of injury in Connecticut's older adults from 2004 to 2007. "Three out of ten people over 70 suffer falls and fall prevalence increases in adults 70 and older with each health problem," said Lydia Greiner, assistant professor of nursing at Fairfield and the project director. 

With the help of the grant, 20 Fairfield nursing students, faculty, and community members will be trained to lead a proven fall management program called "A Matter of Balance," developed by the Maine Healthy Partnership. Once trained, the students, faculty and community members will go into senior housing sites and senior centers in Southwestern Connecticut to lead the eight weekly two-hour workshops on fall prevention methods at each community site.

"The workshops focus on reducing participants' risk for falling, setting goals for increasing physical activity, and teaching exercises to increase strength and balance," said Dr. Suzanne Campbell, dean of the School of Nursing. "This program has proven to increase confidence in the management and prevention of falls."

A recent survey of senior citizens in Bridgeport showed that there is need for the workshops. More than half of 42 seniors surveyed reported falling at least once at some time in the past, and approximately one third reported falling within the past year.

"There is significant evidence that fall prevention programs can decrease the rate of falls in community dwelling older adults, with one study reporting a 25% reduction in falls," Greiner said.

For more information about attending or hosting the workshops, or if you are interested in leader training, call (203) 254-4000, ext. 3225.

The second component of the school's outreach is called "HomeMeds(SM) Medication Management Improvement Program" (MMIP), a partnership involving Fairfield-based Shamrock Home Care, the Westport Weston Health District and the Stratford Visiting Nurse Association.

Under the supervision of faculty, nursing students assess older adults who live on their own using a questionnaire that identifies "red flags" signaling potential medication problems. Using a web-based system, students enter the data into a computer program after the visits. Home care nurses will be alerted to potential problems, so they can initiate follow-up with either the pharmacist or physician, depending on the problem. The older adults are re-assessed each month. 

"If you have a parent who lives a number of states away, this program can help keep an eye on their health status," Greiner said. "This effort is also very important because the average elderly person takes eight pills a day." 

Such a program is vital. According to the Institute of Medicine, medication errors account for up to 7,000 deaths per year. On average, 48% of elders experience medication-related issues, while the number of medications used in the older adult population is increasing.

Both the falls prevention program and the medication management program are components of "Public Health Nursing," a service learning course for all senior level nursing students. Overseen by the University's Office of Service Learning, in the Center for Faith and Public Life, service-learning courses forge connections between academic learning and meaningful service addressing community needs.

The grant supports the School of Nursing's Health Promotion for Older Adults program, a program that provides community outreach, health screening, and education to older adults to promote health and maintain independence. It served 577 adults and involved 50 students and two faculty members completing 1,200 service hours just last year.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on January 11, 2012

Vol. 44, No. 162