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King County Emergency Medical Services/Medic One developed a community resource program to assist seniors to help them stay healthy, independent and safe in their homes - called One Step Ahead Fall Prevention Program.

This program provides free home visits by a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant that provide a home safety walk through to address potential fall hazards, education about staying safe in your home, installation of fall safety devices, and information about other community resources that can help you stay independent and safe in your home.

The program started as a study in 2003 and now has grown into a community program where 1,886 seniors have enrolled into the program over the last 12 years. 62% of enrollees are female and 38% are male. Of the people who had a fall prior to enrolling into this program, 88% did not fall after being seen by our staff.

To enroll in this free program, you must be 50 years and older, have fallen or be at high risk of falling as assessed by a healthcare professional and live in King County (not living in the City of Seattle.) However, we do not provide the program to residents of assisted living/nursing homes.

To enroll in the One Step Ahead Fall Prevention Program, call Alan Abe, Fall Prevention Manager, at 206-263-8544 or email: alan.abe@kingcounty.gov.


  • Two thirds of seniors who experience a fall will fall again within six months.

  • 1 in 3 people aged 65 years and older fall at least once every year. 1 in 40 of those will be hospitalized and only half of those hospitalized will survive the year.

  • 60% of fatal falls occur in the home.

Reducing your risks against falls

There are four important strategies to reduce your risk for falls:

Approximately 50%-70% of falls are due to home hazards, so it's crucial to recognize risks before they lead to an accident. The following checklist will help you identify and correct common hazards that lead to falls.

Lighting

  • Keep stairways, halls & walkways well lit
  • Light bulbs should be 60-75 watts in all rooms

Floors

  • Arrange furniture so that you have plenty of room to walk without obstacles.
  • Keep walkways free of cords, clutter, and other obstacles.
  • Don't let newspapers/magazines collect on the floor.
  • Remove throw rugs or secure them with double stick tape or tacks.
  • Take care of spills and dropped objects promptly.

Steps and stairways

  • All stairs and steps should have secure handrails on both sides.
  • Secure loose carpet or loose steps.
  • Stairs should be well lit with light switches at the top and bottom.
  • Keep stairways free of clutter.
  • Don't wear socks on stairs.

Living Room/Bedroom/Kitchen

  • Make sure that your furniture is easy for you to get in and out of (knee height or higher is easiest).
  • Keep regularly used items within comfortable reach.
  • Keep a phone on a low table within reach of the floor.
  • Keep a light/flashlight and phone within reach of your bed.
  • Install night-lights in your bedroom and bathroom.

Bathrooms

  • Place a non-skid rug on the bathroom floor.
  • 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.
  • Use a shower chair and handheld shower head.

Shoes

  • Firmly fastened (Velcro or cotton laces)
  • Non-skid
  • Low-heeled
  • Lightweight and supportive

Learn how to identify fall hazards in your home

Scene #1 - Hazards in the bathroom
Open cabinets, loose objects on the floor like shoes, towels, rugs, pet food containers, garbage cans, etc.:
Scene #1 - Fall prevention in the bathroom
Using bathroom safety equipment can help prevent falls including toilet support frames, bath tub chair or bench, support bars on walls, and keeping objects like bath rugs off the floor when not in use.
Scene #2 - Hazards in living spaces
Unkempt materials lying such as miscellaneous objects, newspapers on the floor, throw blankets, clothing, wires, etc. are all items that can make you trip and fall.:
Scene #2 - Fall prevention in living spaces
Make sure to keep living spaces tidy to minimize objects on the floor or hanging over edges that hide floor hazards from view while walking.
Keeping in good physical condition with moderate daily exercise will reduce your risk of falls. A combination of flexibility, weight bearing exercises and aerobic exercise can markedly improve your level of fitness at any age.

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.

Regular exercise can:

  • Improve your muscle tone, strength and endurance
  • Keep joints, tendons and ligaments more flexible for unrestricted movement
  • Increase your sense of balance, agility and confidence
  • Strengthen your bones to fight osteoporosis and resist injury
  • Increase your stamina and energy.

Fear of falling is a common anxiety among seniors and it can actually increase to risk for a fall.

Different types of exercise:

  • Physical therapists can teach people how to compensate for balance problems and determine if your walking could be steadied with either an exercise program to strengthen muscles, or an assistive device such as a cane or walker.

  • Community programs such as: Tai Chi, Enhanced Fitness, Matter of Balance, group exercise programs, individual exercise sessions can provide strength, balance and flexibility.
    • Participate in Shape Up! designed to get seniors involved with physical activity programs and download a coupon for a $10 discount on any group exercise class at participating community center.

  • Personal trainers can provide one-on-one exercise programs in your home or at a fitness center.
Eye disease or 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.

Four out of five older adults take at least one prescription medication per day and most take at least 2 prescriptions a day. Drug interactions and the physical changes that come with age can lead to an increased risk of falling.

Tips to manage your medication safely

The more medications taken, the greater risk of risk of drug interactions and side effects. Symptoms can range from dizziness to drowsiness, vision impairment and loss of balance.

  • 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 regularly, don't skip or decrease the dose to cut cost. If you take more then 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.
  • Ask your pharmacist if your medications look different in any way (color, size, shape) than the ones you're currently taking.
  • Limit use of alcohol.
  • Never use someone else's medications and discard old unused medications.