Holidays—What a Trip!

Trips, tumbles and falls—they happen every day. In Washington state, falls result in over 12,000 hospitalizations each year. That's why Aging and Disability Services—the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County—and other Aging Network organizations emphasize falls prevention throughout the year. Falls safety precautions include exercise for balance and strength, medication review, vision exam, and removal of trip hazards.

During the holiday season, there are a number of additional safety precautions each of us should consider. Start by looking at these facts:

  • On average, two to three people are treated in emergency departments every hour during the holiday season for decorating-related injuries.
  • Candle-ignited home fires result in 166 deaths and close to 13,000 injuries each year—and December is the peak month.
  • Home Christmas tree fires cause an average of six civilian deaths, 22 civilian injuries, and $18.3 million in direct property damage per year.
  • Each year, about 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Older people are more at risk for food poisoning due to their weaker immune systems.
  • Put away your medications. In the U.S., every 10 minutes a child younger than 6 years is taken to an emergency room to be treated for a medicine poisoning.
  • Each year, an average of 216 King County residents die and another 690 are hospitalized from poisoning.
  • In 2012, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes—one every 51 minutes.

Before you say it's just not safe to get up in the morning, please realize that falls, fires, food-borne illnesses, poisoning, and automobile crashes are preventable. Following are resources that can help you and your loved ones stay safe this holiday season and beyond:

  • Crime Prevention—The South Seattle Crime Prevention Council offers holiday crime prevention tips, including banking/ATM, entertaining, shopping, and mail/package delivery. Contact your local police department for information about neighborhood Block Watch programs. You're safer when you know your neighbors.
  • Holiday Decorations—Visit the Seattle Fire Department's Holiday Fire Safety website for tips on how to enjoy holiday greens and decorations while minimizing fire hazards.
  • Poison Center—The Washington Poison Center (1-800-222-1222) provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance on the telephone in the case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous or toxic substances. The center is accessible toll-free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When in doubt, call!
  • Safe Ride Home—If you enjoy alcohol, always identify a designated driver in advance. Sometimes eating and drinking establishments can provide a safe ride home. One example is Anna's Ride Home. In August 2014, a KING5 news story (Apps will help you get home safely) listed a variety of private options. Also, low-income King County residents age 18 to 64 who have a disability or age 65 and over may qualify for King County Metro's Taxi Scrip Program, which can be beneficial for many reasons.
  • Smoke Alarms—Properly installed and functioning smoke alarms save lives. Did you know that many fire departments provide free smoke alarms, plus installation, to homeowners who are low-income, senior, or disabled? Residents with hearing loss may qualify for a free strobe smoke alarm. Contact your local fire department to learn more. If you rent and do not have a functional smoke alarm, contact your landlord. In Washington state, rental units must be equipped with a functional smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector.
  • Take Back Your Meds—Learn about proper storage and disposal of medications on King County's Take Back Your Meds website. Be sure to watch the Pill Guy videos!
  • Tripping Hazards—Never underestimate the possibility that you or someone else will trip and fall because of an electrical cord, throw rug, or an unexpected change in furniture layout. Simplify for safety!

Take a moment to read the National Fire Protection Association's Project Holiday webpage, including the fact sheets below, and watch their safety videos. With extra awareness, you can enjoy a joyous holiday season, safe from harm!

Contributor Irene Stewart is an Aging and Disability Services planner who serves as editor of AgeWise King County.

Photo credit: "Oops," broken ornament photo by Dan Tentler, Flickr Creative Commons, accessed 11/20/14 at