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Life Lessons

Pharmacy graduate helps aging population through fall-prevention outreach

When Matthew Willoughby, PharmD ’17, looks into the eyes of an older person, he sees a lifetime of stories and wisdom. He sees a youthful soul. He also sees someone who just wants somebody to talk to, to be there with them. When he looks at an older person, he sees a purpose for his future. That’s why he’s working to minimize one of the aging population’s greatest problems: falls.

Falls are the No. 1 cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults in the United States, according to the National Council on Aging. In 2014 alone, older Americans experienced 29 million falls resulting in 7 million injuries. Willoughby is well aware of what falls cost this country, not only the $31 billion in Medicare annually, but also in quality of life.

Most people who fall don’t go back out on their own again, or it’s a pretty good indication of them passing away soon,” he says. “My goal is to get out and service those people who don’t get help anywhere else.

Willoughby’s journey to fall prevention began right here on the Ohio Northern University campus with the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP), an organization devoted to optimal medication management and improved health outcomes for the elderly.

As part of its outreach, ASCP sends pharmacy students to nursing facilities to inspect and recommend changes to prevent falls. The students thoroughly examine the patient’s home, including layout and flooring, which they assess for fall risks. They also review the patient’s medications to see if they might cause any mental or cognition issues that could lead to a fall. Afterward, the students put together an improvement plan for the facility and provide the materials needed to correct the safety hazards.

Just this year, Willoughby received the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Practice Award for his outreach work in fall prevention. This makes him the third consecutive ONU student to earn this honor in the last three years, following Jeremiah Barnes, PharmD ’16, in 2015, and William “Blake” Hays, PharmD ‘16, in 2016. With ONU’s ASCP members, he significantly contributed to the creation of four new outreach programs in the local area, thus planting a seed for this kind of outreach here. Now, some of these initiatives will be rolled out on a state and national scale in the next few years.

While such work is appreciated by those directly affected, the topic is still one that’s often overlooked or misunderstood. The easiest way to treat a fall is to prevent it from happening in the first place, something Willoughby says is definitely possible in most cases.

Fall prevention is just underrepresented for the most part, and there’s a lot out there that people think is just normal aging,” he says. “Almost anything along the lines of falling can be prevented by somebody actually taking the time to speak to these patients and work with them.

Willoughby has always been drawn to the geriatric community, and his work at ONU helped him discover a deeper passion, one he now is turning into a career. For the next year, he will be doing a residency program with the University of Cincinnati in combination with a geriatric consulting facility called Medication Managers. He plans to stay within the field of geriatrics even beyond this as well.

What is it about geriatrics that has him so captivated? A big part of it is the challenge. An ever-changing field, geriatric medicine poses quite the puzzle to solve when it comes to figuring out what works best for each individual patient.

But there also is another side to his passion for geriatrics, and that’s the life lessons learned.

"Whenever I go talk to the patients, I just love to hear their stories,” he says. “All of the geriatric community have great stories and great backgrounds, so to learn from them just about life in general while I’m working offers a twofold benefit."