Did you know that hospitals are beginning to think differently about the way they care for the elderly? Those of us who are caregivers know the importance of a holistic approach to caring for those we love. We know the importance of nutritious meals, of regular exercise, of mattering, of community. And, yes, we do everything in our power to keep our loved ones out of the hospital.

Going to the hospital conjures up images of cold rooms, lights that are too bright, well-meaning professionals who don’t really have the time to give the same level of care we give every day, and of a facility that is not sensitive tour loved ones’ unique needs.

But yesterday I learned there are a few enlightened hospitals that are developing programs to help you live your best life, regardless of your age. As patients enter the hospital at the Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC), they are asked an important question, “What matters to you?” The AAMC’s Institute on Aging is one of a handful of hospitals that are redefining hospital care for the elderly. I toured the 6th floor dedicated to seniors and found an age-friendly healthcare team. They formulated the “4 M’s” What Matters, Medication, Mentation (preventing, identifying, treating, and managing dementia, depression, and delirium) and Mobility.

Healing is as varied as the patients they care for. Professionally trained therapeutic musicians bring the healing power of music. Over 25 dog therapy volunteers visit with their pre-trained certified dogs. Some patients bring their pets with them to the hospital. Bringing patients together for a 40-minute group session helping them to heal faster than if they get PT in their rooms. Giving frail patients lightweight heated blankets rather than piling on heavy blankets that can break hips in the elderly.

I am certainly doing everything I can to keep my husband out of the hospital. And CareProvide’s caregivers do the same. But it’s comforting to know that if a situation arose that required hospitalization, there are hospitals that cater to the wide spectrum of needs the elderly present and deliver strategies that reduce the overall length of stay.

My flight from Milano to Dulles, long but uneventful, touched down, and I powered on my cell phone. I had left my husband in the care of an amazing group of care providers while I took a short trip to Italy. I anxiously checked for text messages. None. Yes. That’s good. All is well.

Casually, I opened my email to scan the notes in my inbox. Somewhat jetlagged, I scrolled down the long list of mail and stopped a one from a friend with a single word subject line: “John” Feeling uneasy, I clicked it open.

My heart sank. The message was brief. She and John had been out for dinner celebrating their anniversary and John fell. He suffered a serious injury and died. John was elderly and becoming somewhat frail, but dying from a fall? The tragic loss shook me to my core. I am still trying to process it.

I know about falls. My husband has had a few—some requiring stitches. My mother fell and broke her hip—after rehab she is fine. A friend slipped on the steps—and got up to brush herself off with no injury. A fellow choir member missed a step coming out of rehearsal—and following a short hospital stay, she is back at it.

Yet, the national statistics are arresting. One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year, every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in emergency for a fall, and every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall (National Council on Aging).

Can we prevent falls? Some of them, yes. One way to avoid a fall is to do physical exercise. Check out the resources provided by Go4Life, provided by the National Institute on Aging, for tips on how to stay active and be safe.