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Teens + Seniors: A community health approach to close gaps in current fall prevention strategies

A community health approach to promoting adherence to in-home fall prevention interventions and promoting independence in seniors

Photo of Anusha Venkatakrishnan
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls?

This idea is designed to strengthen community ties between community-dwelling seniors and teenagers/young adults in high schools. The goal is to leverage interested and dedicated high schoolers to support in dissemination and engagement with home-based fall prevention exercise programs in seniors.

Current challenges/problems that impact long-term fall prevention exercise program adherence:

I interviewed an older adult who was sticking to a home exercise program to increase balance & strength to prevent falls and 3 healthcare providers (physical therapists with significant experience in geriatrics). Some key insights I obtained are:

  1. Setting specific, achievable, and personalized short-term goals are important
  2. Tracking progress and measuring success towards set goals is motivating, especially when following an exercise program for months because it takes a while to notice/sense actual improvements in strength and/or balance
  3. Periodic check-in/follow-up is necessary to revise goals as needed -- however, current care coverage cannot accommodate this

Current affordance of paper-based home exercise programs makes it difficult to satisfy these asks. As a physical therapist-scientist, these insights are not surprising to me. What is surprising is that in today's technological age, we still don't have an affordable and sustainable solution to this problem! 

While we can develop various digital health technology solutions including artificial intelligence-based ones to promote and support better exercise adherence (asks 1 & 2), a human touch/check-in (ask 3) is often needed in older adults to make these technology tools actually sticky and effective. Social support is an important factor in improving the mental and physical health of older adults, and can greatly enrich their quality of life. However, our overburdened healthcare system and providers can simply not address this need - this is not feasible.

Teens+Seniors- a community health promotion approach to fall prevention:

 As a variant of community health programs, we could recruit high school students as community health workers to perform periodic follow-ups.

High school students who are particularly interested in pursuing healthcare-related educational paths can be incentivized by academic credit for their participation and performance. In addition to learning by doing about healthcare, such a program will also enable these students to develop empathy and compassion at an early age. The community-building and societal impacts of training our next generation like this are huge on its own. More importantly, this will provide an opportunity to provide older adults with enriching and lively interactions with young adults, which can serve as a huge motivation to stick to their exercise goals over a longer time.

Creating this touchpoint for older adults through high school students trained by appropriate clinical teams may indeed serve a significant cost-effective and a much-needed respite for overworked healthcare providers as well. Such a community health promotion approach may indeed help accelerate fall prevention program dissemination as well as promote better long-term adherence in older adults.

Together as a community, we can realize this goal of preventing falls in our seniors and add life to their years instead of merely adding years to their life!

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Pair 5 interested high school students with 5 seniors living in an assisted living facility wherein the high school students will check in and monitor fall prevention exercise performance in the seniors 2-3 times/week. I will train the students on what/how to check-in and encourgae them to focus on engaging in active conversations with the seniors (for holistic psychosocial support). Students will share progress/pictures/updates on a closed Facebook group (with the seniors' consent).

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Design thinking to help generate a more user-friendly version of the home exercise program documentation. Software/Web prototyping to help develop progress monitoring individualized dashboards for seniors and/or students.

How long has your idea existed?

  • 4 months - 1 year

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

Physical therapist+Neuroscientist+Health tech Sci. I bring deep empathy and understanding of people's needs and passionate about leveraging that to develop effective and sustainable technologies to improve the quality of life in older adults - let's add life to people's years!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kumi

Hi Anusha, great idea. One concern, how will you deal with the proper supervision of fall risk patients during the time the high school students will be working with the elderly adults.? Doctors, hospitals, and clinics generally do not allow unlicensed individuals to perform exercises with patients without direct supervision, namely because of the safety issues involved.

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