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Staying Independent for Life

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services has begun making major strides in its effort to prevent falls in the county’s elderly population, one of the department’s primary goals as outlined in its Community Health Assessment 2010-2013.

Falls are the leading cause of injury among New Yorkers over 65 years of age. They account for $1.5 billion in annual hospitalization charges and $123.5 million in annual outpatient emergency department charges, according to the New York State Department of Health.

“In keeping with our prevention agenda, Suffolk County identified injury as a public health priority,” said County Executive Steve Levy. “Recognizing that injuries resulting from falling can change the lives of older residents in dramatic and irreversible ways, our health department reached out to local agencies, hospitals, colleges and organizations and formed the Injury Prevention Committee.”

In 2010, the Division of Preventive Medicine began offering a program entitled “Stepping On: Building Confidence and Reducing Falls,” at county senior citizen centers, libraries, and other organizations that target the senior citizen population.   The program, which was featured in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, is proven to reduce the number of falls for participants by 31 percent. Suffolk County was selected as only one of three counties across the state to receive the training to implement the program by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and New York State Department of Health.

The Stepping On program is a seven-week series of two-hour workshops led by a health professional and a peer leader.  Each week, a maximum of 18 participants focus on a specific topic, such as avoiding home hazards, improving balance and strength, choosing safe footwear, maintaining healthy vision and learning about medications and their side effects.  Experts in physical therapy, ophthalmology, pharmaceuticals, and occupational therapy are invited to share their expertise with participants.

“Due to the overwhelming response to the ‘Stepping On’ program, the department developed a similar program entitled ‘Staying Independent for Life’ that could be shared with a wider constituency throughout Suffolk County,” said Dr. James Tomarken, Commissioner of Health Services.  “We hope that these programs will have long-term positive effects for mature residents of Suffolk County.”

According to Dr. Tomarken, over 330 senior citizens participated in the injury-prevention education programs in 2010.  Combined, both Staying Independent for Life and Stepping On will reach at least 900 senior citizens in Suffolk County in 2011.

The most recent “Stepping On” class was held at Arbors Assisted Living Facility East in Islandia where Recreation Director Barbara Tate, and Administrator John Giordano were honored to welcome the Stepping On program to their facility.  “Arbors is very interested in empowering its residents to learn about health behaviors that reduce the risk of falls,” said Giordano.

According to Tate, the participants at Arbors expressed a strong appreciation for all aspects of the “Stepping On” program and said that the program was beneficial and enjoyable. Participants also stated that the program created an atmosphere that was conducive to learning, and that the facilitators and speakers shared a genuine concern for their welfare.

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services thanks its partner organizations for helping to launch the programs:

Good Samaritan Hospital

Eastern Long Island Hospital

John T. Mather Memorial Hospital

St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center

St. Charles Rehabilitation Hospital

Stony Brook University Hospital

Stony Brook University School of Nursing

Lindenhurst Eye Physicians and Surgeons, P.C.

Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island

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