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A Fall Risk Assessment Could Help You Maintain Your Independence

Ruth, a 72-year-old retired teacher, lives alone. She’s a widow and her grown children live out of state. Ruth country line dances a few times a month, gardens, and is active in her church. She considers herself healthy. One day Ruth slips in the shower and breaks her hip. After surgery and a short stay at a rehab facility, she returns home. She can’t use her second-floor bedroom because she can’t navigate the stairs yet. She uses a rolling walker to keep her balance on uneven pavement. Driving is difficult. Unfortunately, she lives in a rural area that doesn’t have convenient Uber or taxi services. She can’t get to the grocery store, and even if she could, she couldn’t unload them and put them away.

Ruth is forced to give up her independence and move into assisted living. Her life is never quite the same.

Does Ruth’s story sound familiar? How can you avoid this scenario?

Medicare recommends every Medicare recipient (whether they have traditional Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan like HealthTeam Advantage) undergo a yearly Fall Risk Assessment. It can be done alone or as part of an Annual Wellness Visit performed by your primary care provider. Some Medicare Advantage plans, like HealthTeam Advantage, also have wellness seminars and fitness classes focused on reducing the risks of falls.

A Fall Risk Assessment consists of completing a simple questionnaire and, ideally, having your ability to stand up and take a few steps observed by a trained member of the staff.

If you score high on the questionnaire or if staff observes you have gait or balance issues, you should discuss this with your provider. There are several possible fixes to try to prevent falls and injuries, and you and your provider should come up with the best options for you.

Here are some common solutions:

  1. A referral to physical therapy to improve gait/balance
  2. A home health evaluation (they can evaluate the home for possible fall risks and make recommendations. For example, a grab bar in the shower might have prevented Ruth’s broken hip.)
  3. Use of a rolling walker or a cane
  4. Changes in medications

Do you wonder how you’d score on a Fall Risk Assessment? Here is a modified quiz:

  1. Have you fallen two or more times in the past 12 months?
  2. Do you feel unsteady when you walk?
  3. Have you been told you have problems with your memory?
  4. Are you sometimes incontinent of urine?
  5. Are you on medications for your bladder, mood, sleep, blood pressure, or chronic pain? (Note: do not stop any medications without first talking to your provider.)

If you answered yes to any of these questions, make an appointment to discuss your risk of falling with your provider. Remember: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Dr. Beth Hodges is a family practice and palliative care/hospice physician in Asheboro, N.C., as well as a part-time medical director for HealthTeam Advantage.

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