South County Fire focuses on helping older adults avoid falls

Kristen Thorstenson with a client.

Falls are a major threat to the health and independence of people age 65 and older. Nearly one-third of older adults experience a fall. The results of a fall are often a life-changing loss of mobility and independence.

South County Fire responds to more than a thousand fall injury calls to 911 each year. That’s why the organization — which provides fire and emergency medical services for Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Brier, Edmonds and ares of unincorporated South Snohomish County — has a program dedicated to preventing falls in the home.

Patients who have fallen or are at-risk of falling can be referred to South County Fire Community Resource Specialist Kristen Thorstenson. She follows up with prevention information, assistance in accessing social services, or a home visit for a falls risk assessment and safety survey.

Falls Prevention Checklist 

Studies show that a combination of behavior changes can significantly reduce falls among older adults. Experts recommend that you:

  1. Participate in a physical activity regimen with balance, strength training, and flexibility components.
  2. Consult with a health professional about getting a fall risk assessment.
  3. Have medications reviewed periodically.
  4. Get eyes and ears checked annually.
  5. Make sure the home environment is safe and supportive. This includes the following tips:
    • Pick-up trip hazards. Look for anything that might cause you to stumble – papers, books, shoes and clothes.
    • Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep rugs from slipping.
    • Install grab bars next to your toilet and in the bathtub or shower. 
    • Use non-slip mats in the bathtub or on the shower floor.
    • Improve lighting. As you get older, you need brighter lights to see well.
    • Make stairs safe with handrails and lights on all staircases.

As part of this program, South County Fire launched the Veterans in Prevention (VIP) program in partnership with Operation Military Family Cares and Verdant Health Commission in 2017. The first team of three veterans has been on the job since then, working with the South Snohomish County Community Paramedic Task Force. Their focus is helping patients with needs that fall outside of the scope of the traditional emergency medical services system.

Falls are the top reason patients are referred for community paramedic services. VIPs work with our community paramedics and falls prevention specialist during in-home visits to provide clients with safety assessments and recommendations

The majority of the clients seen by Veterans In Prevention to date are veterans or spouses of veterans. In addition to providing in-home safety visits, the VIPs work with veterans organizations to determine if these clients are eligible for benefits as result of their military service.

Both the Veterans in Prevention and Community Paramedic programs are supported by grants from the Verdant Health Commission. South County Fire is continually hiring for part-time Veterans in Prevention positions.


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