Throughout my Health Science degree, the discussion of our aging population is often brought up in regards to how prepared our health system is. I have also studied various health promotion and health prevention models; however, they usually focus on the perspective of a younger generation in preventing chronic illnesses in a long-term mindset. When I came across the position at Fraser Health that described fall prevention for seniors, I was immediately intrigued.
In my co-op position, I am working on the Fraser Health Falls Prevention team, part of a greater team titled Patient Safety and Injury Prevention. Our mission is simple: prevent seniors from falling. There are devastating statistics that show a senior is hospitalized for a fall every 10 minutes, and often a fall is a life-changing event. Falls cause 90% of hip fractures that lead to decreased mobility and independence, as well as 60% of head injuries that can lead to future complications or impairments. By joining the Fall Prevention Team at Fraser Health, I joined a dedicated team committed to preventing seniors from falling.
A typical workweek with the Falls Prevention team for me includes two days in the office and one day at our mobile clinic, which travels throughout the Fraser Health region. The mobile clinic offers clinics from Burnaby out to Hope, and patients attend our clinic for an hour and a half one-on-one appointment. The appointment starts off at registration where the patient’s general health and fall history is recorded. This provides us with an insight to determine if there may be a common theme with why the senior may be falling and for us to then provide appropriate recommendations. Following this, at the kinesiology station, we run five tests on the seniors to assess vision, reaction time, strength, balance, and body awareness. The results from these tests are compared in a program with normative data to put individuals on a “Falls Risk Scale” and to outline strengths and weaknesses they may have. Following this, a pharmacist reviews the senior’s medication and discusses bone health; a physiotherapist provides exercise and equipment recommendations, and the patient leaves with an action plan on how to prevent falls.
The two stations I have a major part in as a co-op student are the registration and kinesiology stations. I work closely with another SFU Co-op student, and we take turns in running these stations. Entering this position, I had limited experience working one-on-one with seniors, and I was unsure about how much I would enjoy it. I have learned however, that the senior population is a very fun, engaging, sometimes challenging, and very rewarding population to work with. What first took me by surprise was how engaged and appreciative so many seniors are. The recommendations I give to seniors are usually taken quite seriously, and when following up with patients three to four months later, I often find seniors have taken the recommendations to heart and have found success in their action plan. This makes the work at my co-op position rewarding and meaningful. This, in fact, is one of my favourite parts of the Falls Prevention Clinic: the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations with seniors every day. These conversations have truly opened my eyes to the challenges they face on a daily basis, as well as how one little mistake causing a fall can be incredibly life-changing and debilitating.
When not in the clinic, I spend my other workdays in the office scheduling the clinics, tracking referrals, doing follow-up calls, connecting seniors to resources, along with other work for the Patient Safety and Injury Prevention team. Often it is said that patients “fall between the cracks,” a phrase describing patients who get left behind or who slip through the system with inadequate care. At this position, I have witnessed first-hand how easy that is to let happen when the health care system and the services it provides are in such great demand. However, I make it my personal goal as a co-op student to do what I can to connect seniors to the resources they need. Often this can be as simple as researching exercise programs online for an isolated senior, which could lead to social connections, exercise opportunities, and overall a healthier lifestyle.
The Falls Prevention Team also attends health clinics throughout the Fraser Health region (pictured below). These opportunities allow room to network and grow as a co-op student, exposing me to a variety of health organizations as well as the chance to engage with and provide resources to a larger population.
Take Away Messages
To seeking co-op students, I recommend finding a broad area you are passionate about, and then try something new within that field. This position has demonstrated to me that preventative health methods can have lasting effects, which has opened my eyes to the possibilities within the health promotion field. With my first four months at this position coming to an end, I am looking forward to another four months where I intend to take a larger role in leading a project as well as assist in further research. I will enter my next semester at Fraser Health with energy and a passion to make a difference in the lives of seniors.