Healing and Transitioning: Keeping Seniors Safe After a Fall

Don’t let fear get in the way of reaching goals

Margaret Dunnigan and Julie Flanagan are P.E.O. sisters. Both are members of the Philanthropic Educational Organization celebrating the advancement of women. It’s a bond of servant-leadership, education, and advocacy to motivate women to achieve their highest aspirations.  When Margaret broke her sacrum at the base of her spine at 91 years old, her family reached out to Julie for advice after the rehabilitation center told them it was time to move Margaret to a long-term care facility.

“Fortunately I knew Margaret,” said Julie, RN, BAN, CRRN, Director of Life Care for Lifesprk at Summit Place in Eden Prairie. “As we do with every client, the goal in our whole person approach is to look at their baseline – what are they capable of, who are they as a person. With Margaret, she had been motivating women her entire life to achieve their goals. It was my turn to help Margaret regain hers.”

What Julie also knew was that moving her to a nursing home was not an option that would work for Margaret. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall. Decisions made after the fall can impact how seniors proactively prevent and thrive once they are home. The key here, and what Julie knew for Margaret, is that fear often plays a role in how someone heals afterwards. “Fear will limit their activities and slow their rehab down,” said Julie. “Margaret is a very sociable, strong person. What she needed most was confidence. So often when we see our clients on the roller coaster of health crises, it’s the fear of it happening again that suspends them from trying to take that next step and they decline further physically, become socially isolated and feel helpless.”

Julie advocated for Margaret to move to Summit Place where there Healing-Transitioning-Senior-Fallwas an opening in assisted living and Lifesprk is on-site providing whole person senior care to its residents.  Margaret was assigned to Debbie Whitehurst, RN, Life Care Manager (LCM), who explained: “When we met, Margaret needed total care and couldn’t get out of her wheelchair.”  Debbie enlisted the help of Lifesprk Home Health for physical and occupational therapy. Katie Trent, PT, and Jill Schmid, OT, helped rehabilitate Margaret in her apartment.

Together, the entire team worked on her rehab but also included another often overlooked element: identity. “She’s a P.E.O. sister, I knew she had it in her to use her strength and empowerment to overcome this,” said Julie. Debbie and Julie would go into Margaret’s room and tell her ‘today we are going to stand together.’ “I coached her while also getting to know Margaret – we made the relationship not about the injury but about the person. She needed to believe that she would walk again, that this was just a bump in the road but that we would take one day at a time, together,” said Debbie. And Julie set a meaningful goal for her: work on your exercises and we will attend the next P.E.O. meeting together.

Months later, Margaret is not only walking, but she’s socializing and doing the majority of her self-care on her own. “The smile on her face warms my heart,” said Julie.

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