An interprofessional project that will help older adults in rural communities receive fall risk screening and education is moving forward, thanks to a $25,000 Health Sciences Program grant.

Students from the Physical TherapyOccupational Therapy and Pharmacy programs, supported by Health Sciences Center faculty and preceptors, will collaborate as they rotate in various rural senior centers in West Virginia over the summer.

These students will work together to provide educational sessions on falls with older adults, including a discussion about environmental risks. Participants will complete a home assessment checklist and be screened for balance and strength, vision and blood pressure and receive a medication review. Following the screening, participants will receive a summary of recommendations to provide to their primary care physician for follow-up.

“This project is an important example of an interprofessional service learning initiative that benefits the students, the community partner and patients,” Gina Baugh, Pharm.D., director of Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences at the WVU School of Pharmacy, said. “The students are learning valuable information regarding fall prevention as well as the importance of working together to provide comprehensive patient care as a team. The community partner and patients are benefiting from receiving care from three disciplines, each with unique recommendations and available resources.”

The incidence of death from falls among the elderly has risen over the past decade. Each year one in three older adults experiences a fall, with one in five falls resulting in a serious injury.

“This project is significant for two reasons,” said Ralph Utzman, P.T., Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of physical therapy in the School of Medicine and academic coordinator of clinical education. “First, falls are a major cause of death and disability among older adults, and this project will bring important preventive services to rural residents. Second, the project allows for students in OT, Pharmacy and PT to collaborate with and learn from each other while providing services in a community environment. Previous research has indicated that having positive learning experiences in rural settings increases the likelihood that students will choose rural clinical practice following graduation.”