Easy Online Tool Screens for Fall Risk At Home

Falls among adults ages 65 and up are common, costly and preventable. An older adult falls every second in the United States, and there are 100 fall-related deaths every day. In 2022, the CDC Foundation launched an innovative project aimed at reducing these falls and fall-related injuries.

With technical expertise from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Injury Prevention, the CDC Foundation developed user-friendly fall prevention resources for older adults and their caregivers.

The CDC Foundation launched the Falls Free CheckUp in late 2022 to help older adults and their caregivers easily screen for fall risk at home using an online tool. Created through collaboration with NORC at the University of Chicago and the National Council on Aging, the Falls Free Checkup asks 12 simple questions and calculates whether an older adult has a normal or high risk for experiencing a fall. The tool also educates users on steps to take to prevent a fall from occurring and provides additional resources.

Falls Free CheckUp is designed to be an effective means of primary prevention of older adult falls. To this end, we needed to instill confidence in older adults in their ability to complete the screening, understand the results and work with their healthcare providers to take the next steps. This meant that our tool had to meet the needs of various demographics, health literacy levels and learning styles. The Falls Free CheckUp needed to be an equitable resource, which meant we needed insight from our target population.

We started with data we already had on older adults: their beliefs and attitudes about falls and their fall risk behaviors. Our team reviewed the scientific literature to gather information before constructing the first version of the online tool. We then tested this version with focus groups of older adults of various demographics: low socioeconomic status, Spanish-speaking and high fall risk. We also gathered feedback about attitudes and behaviors of older adults who completed the beta tool through a random survey of 1,000 participants. Here’s what we learned:

  • Older adults may underestimate their fall risk, even after screening as high risk.
  • Older adults trust their healthcare providers for information but may not feel that their providers have the time or resources to assist them with fall prevention.
  • Focus group respondents preferred concise, bite-sized information rather than long explanations.
  • Focus group respondents also felt pictures and videos humanize the information and better explain the results.

With these insights, we were able to modify the Falls Free CheckUp to be more appealing and easily understood for our audience. We strengthened the message of the risk of falls, included information that can be easily shared with a healthcare provider and produced video vignettes explaining normal and high-risk results from a peer’s perspective.

The finished product, including a Spanish version, was launched during National Fall Prevention Awareness Week in September 2022. In two months, the tool received more than 100,000 unique visits and was completed by over 36,000 users. CDC showcased the new resource for Health Literacy Month, stating “The Falls Free Checkup exemplifies health literacy best practices such as keeping information short and making it understandable and actionable.” By leveraging focus group data, and insights from our target population of older adults, we were able to develop a customized health resource to improve their health.

The CDC Foundation developed partnerships with diverse organizations vested in delivering equitable resources to the aging population. These organizations have become valuable stakeholders in promoting the tool to older adults and their caregivers. Visit the Falls Free CheckUp at www.ncoa.org/fallsfreecheckup. Share this tool with older adults in your life to help them prevent falls and enjoy life.

Daniel Thompson is a communications and partnership specialist for the Preventing Older Adult Falls and Fall Injuries program.
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Tracy Gariepy, MS CHES, is an Injury Prevention Project Coordinator with the CDC Foundation.