Physical therapy scene

Keeping Things In Balance

If it seems that falls are inevitable, there is good news: falls can be prevented if you know your risk level, where your weaknesses lie, and how to improve those weaknesses. The Illini Fall Prevention Clinic was created expressly to provide the surrounding community with the information and tools needed to prevent falls.

Custom-tailored Intervention

The brainchild of Dr. Jake Sosnoff, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, the Illini Fall Prevention Clinic was founded on more than a decade of his research on neurophysiological and behavioral factors related to motor control and falling. In addition to healthy individuals of all ages, he has investigated issues related to mobility, balance, and gait in people with Multiple Sclerosis, chronic kidney disease, and spinal cord injuries.

Woman sitting in chair in physical therapy room“As a society, we tend to treat falls reactively and don’t become concerned until people suffer an injury, such as breaking a wrist or hip,” he said. “We are really good at mending broken bones, but we don’t really address the underlying causes of the falls. I have all this sophisticated equipment and the research results to show that we can help to prevent falls through an evidence-based approach, and I want to share that with the larger community.”

People who come into the clinic go through a four-part consultation that takes into account things such as balance, leg strength, vision, and body awareness. The measurements are suitable for all level of skills and functional abilities. Data from the various tests are compiled into a fall risk score and used to develop individualized prevention strategies to meet the client’s specific needs. Tyler Wood, a licensed athletic trainer and Ph.D. student who is the lead trainer in the clinic, says the main issues they see are deficits in lower body strength, balance, and reaction time.

“Based on each individual’s results, we work out an intervention plan tailored to their particular needs,” he said. “We give them a set of exercises that they can do at home, and we make sure they can do them properly before they leave the lab.” Clients are encouraged to return to the clinic six months later so that their progress can be measured and their intervention plans updated, if necessary.

Not only is the clinic providing potentially lifesaving screening, but it also serves as a learning opportunity for undergraduate students in the College of Applied Health Sciences to gain real-life clinical experience working with a diverse group of older adults. Currently, more than 15 undergraduates contribute to the clinic.

Extending The Reach

Woman standing in front of walker in physical therapy roomBecause Dr. Sosnoff and his team recognize that not everyone can make it into the clinic in Huff Hall, they take the clinic to other venues such as retirement homes and churches when needed. Since opening the clinic in late spring of 2016, they have assessed the fall risk of more than 130 people in the surrounding community.

Working with his former doctoral students Doug Wajda, now an assistant professor of exercise science at Cleveland State University, and Jason Fanning, now an assistant professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University, Dr. Sosnoff developed a smart phone app that accurately assesses fall risk and provides personalized suggestions on ways to minimize risk. With support from the Collaboration in Health, Aging, Research, and Technology (CHART), the app was tested at Clark-Lindsey Village, a retirement community in Urbana.

Dr. Sosnoff’s team recently partnered with Dr. Sanjiv Jain of Carle’s Bone Health and Osteoporosis Clinic to test a new system that enables seniors to complete their own fall risk assessment without clinical oversight. Preliminary data suggests that the system accurately measures fall risk and that users enjoy it. His team is currently working on the system’s ability to provide feedback and individualized prevention strategies. Dr. Sosnoff’s overarching goal is to make falling avoidable rather than inevitable. “People come into the clinic because they’ve noticed changes with aging and don’t know what to do about them, or they bring in an aging parent or a spouse they’re concerned about,” he said. “We want to give them objective evidence that helps them understand what they’re dealing with, as well as concrete steps to promote functional independence and quality of life.”

For more information on the Illini Fall Prevention Clinic and its services, or to schedule an assessment, visit www.illinifallclinic.com.

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