NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Researchers at the University of New Mexico are hoping to prevent dangerous falls among senior citizens on the Zuni Pueblo. In a news release from UNM Health Sciences, New Mexico reportedly has about 1.5 times the fall-related death rate of other states and at Zuni Pueblo, it may be about double the national rate.

In a pilot study of 50 seniors ages 65 and older, UNM Health Sciences researchers Vallabh Shah Ph.D. and Carla Herman, M.D. found that 75% of seniors felt they were at risk for a fall. The researchers have now received a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study fall risk in the pueblo.

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UNM Health Sciences reports that individuals with weakness in the lower extremities and balance issues are at a higher risk for falls and that those patients typically work with a physical therapist to lower their risk. However, UNM Health Sciences states that Zuni Pueblo’s senior center doesn’t have physical therapists on staff.

Working in collaboration with Zuni’s senior center and wellness program, the UNM team will have UNM physical therapists train community health representatives in fall prevention. The study will determine whether a community health representative can be trained in physical therapy and falls prevention education to minimize the risk of falls.

According to UNM, the research team will identify 200 people who are at risk for falls with 100 being in a randomized control trial receiving education and home modification. The other 100 will receive an at-home prescribed exercise program in addition to home modification and education.

The news release indicates researchers will look at whether a home has adequate indoor lighting and if there are bars to hold onto in the bathtub and bathroom. The grant will cover any home modifications that are needed. The research team hopes to start the study in December.