Officials at Gundersen Health System have received a grant to help fund community services aimed at reducing falls among the elderly.  

Minimizing falls is a high priority for health officials at Gundersen and across the state. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin ranks first in the nation for fall-related deaths. Minnesota and Iowa also rank higher than the national average.  

“Falls are our number one cause of traumatic injury that we see at Gundersen,” said Gundersen trauma injury prevention coordinator Megan Anderson.  

The Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging awarded Gundersen with the Localizing Efforts to Address Falls (LEAF) grant. It will help fund Gundersen’s ongoing effort with staff at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult day care centers to minimize the risk of falls. Anderson and fellow trauma injury prevention coordinator Carly Severson work with the staff to become certified to teach “Bingocize.” The evidence-based program from Western Kentucky University combines bingo and exercise while educating older adults about ways to prevent falls.  

“Our goal with this specific grant is to build on our capacity, especially here locally,” Severson said. “We felt the most appropriate way to do that was to increase the number of trained facilitators for these programs.”  

Using the grant, Anderson and Severson will begin training 15 staff members at nine facilities to teach Bingocize to their residents.   

“Megan and I have done these programs at several assisted living facilities and nursing homes in our area, and every time we do it, the participants say how much they love it and they want us to stay and keep coming,” Severson said. “As much as we would love to do that, we really want to keep going to new places that we haven’t been before to offer these programs.”  

Older adults living on their own can take preventive measures to reduce their fall risk. Anderson said they should have ample lighting in their home, install handrails and grab bars, avoid using throw rugs, and reduce clutter around the house. It’s also important to have annual eye exams and be aware of any medications increasing the risk of falls.  

Exercise is also important to maintain strength and balance. Several organizations, including Gundersen, provide community exercise programs for seniors. Gundersen offers a free seven-week, evidence-based course called Stepping On. The course focuses on balance and strength exercises, medication management, home safety, footwear, vision, and mobility. The next program begins Monday, April 3 at 2 p.m. and runs until Monday, May 15. If you are interested in enrolling in the program, call Carly Severson at (608) 775-3054.   More information regarding fall prevention and community resources can be found on the La Crosse County Falls Prevention Coalition website, lacrossestopfalls.org.