Standing Up to Senior Falls: Local Program Promotes Independence and Safety at Home

Do you know someone over 65 who has fallen? Have you reached that age and are concerned about your risk? Senior falls are all too common, with results that are often serious and sometime even grave. Nearly 24,000 seniors died nationally in 2012 due to falls, nearly doubling in ten years. And over 2.4 million people—almost four times the population of Seattle—were hospitalized.

What's driving this toppling trend? More of us are living longer, and as a society, we're getting older. And with the aging of the baby boomer generation, this trend will continue. By 2030, the US Census Bureau estimates that there could be about 75 million people over 65 in the United States.

As we age, we tend to collect conditions that make us more vulnerable to falls: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease.

So, what can we do about it? We know that 60 percent of senior falls happen in the home, so if we improve safety and reduce risks there, we can make a big difference.

That's where King County Emergency Medical Services/Medic One comes in. They have developed the One Step Ahead Fall Prevention Program to help at-risk seniors stay healthy, independent and safe in their homes.

How does the program work?

The program provides free home visits by a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant. They do a home safety walk-through to address potential fall hazards, provide education about staying safe in the home, install fall safety devices, and give information about other community resources to help.

The program started as a pilot study over 10 years ago and is now a proven model. Among people who had a fall before enrolling into this program, 83 percent did not fall after being visited by staff.

How to sign up

To enroll in this free program, you must be 50 years and older, have fallen or be at high risk of falling as determined by a healthcare professional and live in King County. Some other conditions apply. For more information or to sign up, contact Alan Abe, King County Emergency Medical Services, at 206-263-8544 or alan.abe@kingcounty.gov.

Contributor Alan Abe is the Injury Prevention Program Manager in the Emergency Medical Services Division of Public Health—Seattle & King County. His article originally appeared in the Feb. 9, 2015 issue of Public Health Insider (subscribe for free at www.publichealthinsider.com).

Falls Prevention Awareness Day

Falls Prevention Awareness Day falls on the first day of fall. We're talking about it now because falls occur year-round and prevention activities are important throughout the year. Also, if you or your organization would like to host an activity or event on Wednesday, September 23, 2015—the first day of fall—read the National Council on Aging's compendium of state and local Falls Prevention Awareness Day activities in 2014. Washington state is featured on pages 73–74. See also the Aging and Disability Services (ADS) falls prevention webpage. For more information, e-mail ADS planner Karen Winston (karen.winston@seattle.gov).