TAYLORVILLE, Ill. (WAND) - Taylorville Memorial Hospital and Hickory Estates teamed up to start a program to help reduce the number of falls and injuries due to falling by the elderly.

The GoSteady project was developed in August 2018 by two therapists at Taylorville Memorial Hospital. Occupational therapist, Sharmila Gopalakrishnan and physical therapist Sonali Bhole were approached by leaders at Hickory Estates because they were seeing four to five falls a week from their residents. Gopalakrishnan said they started to brain storm and used a program through the Center for Disease Control to develop their own project at Taylorville Memorial Hospital.

"We wanted to do something for the community to help improve their health," said Gopalakrishnan.

GoSteady works as a screening process. First, residents did their own self screen to see if they fall into a category. After that, Gopalakrishnan said they would screen patients to see if they are at risk of falling, instead of waiting for them to get to the hospital after the fall and assessing. The therapists would have patients do a sit-stand, balance tests, vision and cognition tests, in addition to complaints of dizziness and even footwear.

"Every fall has a cost and sometimes it's a physical costs, as a head injury," she explained. "Other than injury, when you fall is can caused a fear of falling and because you are afraid of falling you don't move as much."

As an occupational therapist, Gopalakrishnan works in long-term and prevention care that's why she was so passionate about this project. In the past year, the initiative resulted in a 67 percent reduction in falls a the assisted living facility.

"The more we started to screen patients and interact with patients, it kind of brought out that there is less awareness in the community and this is a huge cost to the community," she said.

After they screen the patients, Gopalakrishnan said they would make recommendations and have the patients go and speak with their doctors, especially if it involves medication or other health concerns. If it didn't concern the doctor, Gopalakrishnan explained they would recommend patients to go to a workout class or continue physical therapy.

"One of the big factors that came up with repeat fallers was compliance, although we would recommend that they seek therapy some of them did not want to go," Gopalakrishnan explained.

More than 25 percent of adults who are 65 years old and older fall each year. Deb Moon, head nurse at Hickory Estates, said when a resident falls they have a button to page for help and once her or another nurse arrive they have to assess the situation and decide whether they need to go to the hospital.

"When that (falling) started happening it just deteriorates them quickly," she explained. "I don't want them to have to depend on anybody anymore than they have to."

Moon said since TMH screen visits she was able to get more residents involved in activities at the facility. Since the screenings, Hickory Estates has started a walking program and even a few workout classes.

"We got residents now who get up and walk that I've never seen walk before," she said.

One woman in the walking program has walked over 80 miles. Both Gopalakrishnan and Moon agreed that since the screenings they've seen an overall excitement about health in the residents.

"Seeing some of our residents who were kind of just help up in their rooms are now going out into the community and shopping with their families," Gopalakrishnan said. "It's those kinds of things that give you the most positive feedback."

The goal of the project was to eliminate falls, but Gopalakrishnan said it was also to get out into the community and raise awareness. She explained that there is a stroke and heart disease awareness, so she wants more elderly adults to be aware of falling and the risks of falling.

The GoSteady project has since expanded to Rolling Meadows Senior Living in Taylorville and has screened older adults who live in their homes. A national panel of qualified experts judged the project and it was recognized by the Illinois Health and Hospital Association.

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