News & Success Stories


News // September 02, 2014

Sharing the Joys of Working with Older Adults: Profile of Kristen Smith

Kristen Smith, Health Promotion Manager at the County of San Diego’s Aging & Independence Services, has worked in a variety of public health areas from academia to a think tank on trade and health policy. However, the area closest to her heart is health promotion with older adults.

Kristen Smith was always very close to one of her grandmothers, “Mammaw,” who had a number of challenges in her old age. Shortly after Smith’s grandmother retired, she fell outside a friend’s home and broke her hip. A couple years later, she fell and broke the other hip. She always said those two falls changed her life and her retirement plans.

“Most people think that their fall is ‘just a fluke,” said Smith.  “But like other public health issues, there are predictable patterns and we can look at those patterns and find ways to prevent falls. Falls are not just a fluke.”

Falls are the number one reason for nursing home admissions. For people over age 65, one out of three will fall each year. Physicians usually just treat the injuries that result from a fall but often don’t address prevention issues before the fall.  Smith is a strong advocate for changes that make the care system better.

“This is a challenge that, while difficult, we know what we need to do, and it would have great pay-offs - if and when we succeed,” said Smith. “We can now expect to live into our 80’s and 90’s and even 100’s, and we all want those years to be as healthy and happy as possible.”

At Aging & Independence Services, Smith and her colleagues have the opportunity to reach county residents and service providers through health promotion initiatives and the Fall Prevention Task Force.  Research shows that exercise is the best thing for overall health and wellbeing for older adults and can reduce risks for falls. The County offers free Feeling Fit classes, which are in more than 22 sites throughout the region, to help participants improve their balance, strength, and flexibility.   Participants report significant improvements in their health and mobility.

“Many of the elderly that participate report that they can go up and down steps more easily, they have more energy and they sleep better,” said Smith.  “We have seen people starting the exercises in a seated position and building up their leg strength to the point where they can move to standing exercises. We have even had someone quit using a wheelchair after being in the class for a while”. 

Smith believes in the benefits of the health promotion programs provided by the County’s Aging & Independence Services.  Free exercise classes, Tai Chi classes, and Healthier Living workshops are available for people grappling with diabetes and other chronic conditions.  In addition, Aging & Independence Services has many programs for older adults at all stages of life. Intergenerational Programs or other volunteer programs provide opportunities for people to get involved in their communities.  Seminars and support groups help connect a community of family caregivers.  And Aging & Independence Services helps people find programs in the comfort of their homes by visiting  or by calling 1-800-510-2020.

Aging & Independence Services also provides alternative educational opportunities to service providers, ranging from social workers to physical therapists. Providers can use online Fall Prevention Resource Guides to identify a large variety of services and learn how to make appropriate referrals and educate their patients using videos and materials from Aging & Independence Services and the Fall Prevention Task Force.

What does Smith want residents to know about Aging & Independence Services/Fall Prevention Week and its role in senior’s lives?

This month, the County of San Diego and the Fall Prevention Task Force are sponsoring several events for Fall Prevention Awareness Week. Each event will feature dynamic speakers, fall risk screenings and exhibitors with local resources.

Below are dates and locations for Fall Prevention Awareness Week, where all events are free.  Participants should register by calling 1-800-827-1008.

  • Chula Vista: September 20th, 9:30 am - 12:30pm at St. Paul's PACE, 630 L Street, Chula Vista 91911  Please note: Event speakers will present in SPANISH
  • Vista: Wednesday, September 24th, 12:30pm - 3:30pm at the Gloria McClellan Senior Center Brengle Terrace Park, 1400 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista 92084
  • Mission Valley: Thursday, September 25th 8:30am - 12:30pm at First United Methodist Church, 2111 Camino Del Rio South, San Diego 92108

Smith reminds us that falls are not a fluke – they are often preventable

If you work with older adults, please share this information with your colleagues, family and friends. With a concerted community effort, we can reduce falls in our county. Visit this The San Diego Fall Prevention Task Force website to learn more about how you can reduce your risk.