There are a number of risks associated with the harsh winter weather—not just the frigid temperatures. One of the most threatening winter hazards is the potential for slipping and falling on patches of ice or snow. These falls can lead to a variety of injuries—from cuts and scrapes to broken bones. In fact, fractured ankles (at any age) and broken hips (especially for those over 50) are two of the most frequent common injuries that can result from falls on ice or snow.
Hip fractures are a painful and serious injury in an older adult. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults, who lived independently before a hip fracture, remains in a nursing home for at least a year after injury and one out of five hip fracture patients dies within a year of injury.
It is also important to know that a pattern of falls may be the result of an underlying medical condition. For example, low blood pressure can cause an individual to faint; diabetes can reduce one’s feeling in the feet, compromising balance; and a decrease in vision, whether caused by glaucoma, cataracts, or just aging eyes, are common age-related conditions that can lead to falls.
Research has found exercise to be an effective treatment for all kinds of diseases that are associated with fall risk, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cognitive decline. Furthermore, exercise in and of itself is an effective preventive measure against falls. Exercise strengthens muscle tone, improves balance, and relieves joint stiffness from medical conditions like arthritis.
If you are an older adult, the good news is there are steps you can take to protect yourself against falls and to stay active, even in winter. Experts in geriatric care at Hebrew SeniorLife offer the following tips:
- While warm coats, mittens and hats can help to keep you warm, appropriate footwear during the winter months is essential. Rubber or neoprene soles, especially those with plenty of tread, provide better traction on snow and ice than either leather or plastic soles. “Comfort” shoes, which are popular with seniors, have smooth soles and should be avoided.
- Planning ahead is essential. Think about the best route to your destination and add extra time to get there. Avoid rushing or taking shortcuts through the snow or over icy areas.
- If you have to walk over slippery surfaces, bend your body slightly forward, take shorter strides, or shuffle your feet for better traction and stability.
- Be careful getting into and out of the car. This is when many falls occurs. Take a quick look around to make sure your footing is clear when you step out of the car.
- Be aware of “black ice,” which is hard to see. Stay on clean, clear pathways or ones that have been treated with sand or salt.
- If you have to shovel, make sure you clear a level pathway to stand on, so you don’t lose your balance.
- Take advantage of floor mats when you enter buildings. These help remove moisture from your shoes. Once indoors, avoid walking on wet or slippery surfaces.
- Frail seniors, who are particularly at risk, should have a companion when walking outdoors.
Following these easy, common-sense tips can help keep you healthy and safe during the winter months.