9-1-1: “9-1-1, what are you reporting?”
Caller: “My husband fell in our bathroom, and we can’t get him up.”
9-1-1: “Is he awake?”
9-1-1: “Did he get hurt when he fell?”
Caller: “No, he’s not injured and didn’t hit his head. I don’t think he turned the light on, and he slipped while getting onto the toilet. I’m just not able to get him up off the floor.”
9-1-1: “Okay, thank you. We will notify the Fire Department. Try to keep him calm and as comfortable as possible until help arrives.”
The start of each fall season is Fall Prevention Awareness Week – a time to consider the impacts that a fall can have, especially for older adults.
One in three adults over age 65 fall at least once a year. A significant number of calls to King County’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system are related to falls by older adults in their home. The impact of a fall can be significant. Injuries from a fall can cause cascading problems that prevent someone from remaining safe in their home.
But, falling does not have to be an inevitable part of aging. This Fall Prevention Awareness Week, take steps to prevent the risk of falls in your home or the homes of older adults in your life.
Free assistance from fall prevention educators
Two-thirds of older adults who experience a fall will fall again within six months. King County’s One Step Ahead Fall Prevention Program provides free in-home or virtual visits from a fall prevention educator to adults ages 50 or older who have previously called 9-1-1 for a fall-related reason. Many of the referrals to the program are made by emergency medical service professionals who have responded to a fall-related 9-1-1 call.
The visit includes a home safety walk-through to address potential fall hazards, education about staying safe in your home, installation of fall safety devices, as appropriate, and information about other community resources that can help you stay independent and safe in your home. Each visit is tailored to the individual’s needs and how they interact with their environment.
Full criteria for program eligibility:
- Residing in King County, outside Seattle
- 50 years of age or older
- Living independently (not in a nursing home, assisted living facility, adult family home, & hospice)
- Able to walk Independently or with the use of an assistive device
- Client has experienced a fall within the past six months the required a call to 9-1-1
To enroll or receive more information about the One Step Ahead Fall Prevention Program, call 206-263-8544 or email FallPrevention.EMS@kingcounty.gov.
City of Seattle residents are not currently eligible for this program. If you live in Seattle and are seeking fall prevention assistance, talk with your primary care provider and review the tips below.
Steps to prevent the risk of falls
Even if you’re not eligible for assistance from One Step Ahead, there are numerous easy steps you can take to help reduce your risk of falls.
Modify fall hazards in your home
Approximately 50%-70% of falls are due to hazards in the home, so it’s crucial to identify and correct risks in the home:
- Keep stairways, halls, and walkways well lit; install nightlights in bathroom and bedroom
- Keep walkways free of clutter and trip hazards, including picking up dropped objects promptly, clearing walkways of electrical cords, and securing rugs with double-stick tape or tacks
- Install secure handrails on both sides of stairways and steps
- Make sure furniture is easy for you to get in and out of (knee height or higher is easiest)
- Install and use wall grab bars by the toilet and inside the shower/tub area
- Line the tub or shower with non-skid mats or non-slip adhesive strips
Focus on exercise and physical activity
Even if you should fall, being in good physical condition will lower your chances of serious injury and raise your ability to heal quickly and completely. You should always talk to your health care provider about what kinds of exercise are best for you and about specific exercise instructions.
King County’s Shape Up! program helps connect adults ages 50 and older with free and low-cost community exercise activities.
Care for your vision
Eye disease and normal aging can make it difficult for seniors to read fine print, judge distance or identify objects clearly. These factors can lead seniors to develop a poor sense of balance or misread medicinal instructions. Have your vision checked annually and prescriptions updated as needed.
Manage your medication
The more medications taken, the greater the risk of side effects. Symptoms can range from dizziness to drowsiness, vision impairment and loss of balance, all of which can increase risk of falls.
- Keep a complete and updated medication list, including prescriptions, over the counter medications, herbs, and vitamins, and always carry it with you. Bring your medication list every time you visit the doctor or hospital.
- Have all your medications filled at one pharmacy. Ask your pharmacist or your doctor about drug interactions (“Will this medication interfere with my other medications?”).
- Take your medications as indicated, don’t skip or decrease the dose to cut cost. If you take more than one prescription, create a system and regular routine for taking your medications.
- Always ask your doctor before you start an herbal supplement or over-the counter remedy and don’t forget to ask your pharmacist to check for herb-drug interactions.
- Report adverse drug reactions to your doctor immediately
For more information about preventing the risk of falls, visit: www.kingcounty.gov/ems/falls
Originally published: September 21, 2022