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Avoiding Falls in Wintertime

During the middle of winter, seemingly simple, everyday actions such as padding out the front door in slippers, stepping out of a car in a parking lot or going on an afternoon walk can suddenly become dangerous.  
Orthopedic injuries from falls, such as broken bones in the wrist, arm, ankle or hip, are common in all seasons. For older adults, falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, which ultimately can be fatal. Even for elderly patients who do not die due to injury from a fall, consequences can lead to nursing home stays and subsequent health decline.

General risk factors for falling, in winter or in other seasons, include:

  • Age
  • Previous fall
  • Poor vision
  • Chronic conditions
  • Use of multiple medications
  • Fear of falling

To help prevent or lessen injury from wintertime falls:

  • Take care in risky locations – Treating many areas as risky or unsafe in the winter, as it’s not always possible to see icy spots. When getting in or out of a vehicle, first check to see if the ground is slippery.
  • Be cautious and allow for extra time – Being in a hurry and scrambling into the grocery store for a gallon of milk can be asking for trouble.
  • Change your walking style for greater stability – Use a slower and wider gait to better protect against falls.
  • Dress appropriately – Though it may seem harmless to go out to get the mail in your robe, doing so increases your chances of injury or exposure if you take a tumble on an icy driveway or walk. Wear gloves, warm clothing that covers you well, and footwear with treads and good traction, or even consider purchasing ice grippers for your shoes.
  • Bring a cellphone – If you should fall, you will be glad you brought your phone along to call a neighbor, spouse or emergency medical help.
  • Clear your walks – Even if this requires asking for help from others to accomplish, it’s worth the trouble to prevent a fall. Kitty litter or sand on walkways can help provide better traction while walking. Use salt to help melt any ice that may cause your walkway to be extra slippery.
  • Ask your doctor to assess your personal risk of falling – If certain factors put you at higher risk, such as low vision, a physician can help develop a preventive action plan.
  • Protect your bone health – Taking in calcium from food sources or supplements and getting vitamin D from sun exposure are important for bone health, which protects against falls. 

What should you do when you fall or someone near you takes a tumble on the ice and snow?

  • Don’t get up right away or let anyone help you up immediately; this avoids the potential of causing further injury. Don’t worry about feeling embarrassed. Rather, take your time, lie there for a moment and assess how you are feeling.
  • After making an assessment of your injury status, if you can get up, roll to one side. Bend your knees toward you, push up with your arms and then use your legs to stand up the rest of the way.
  • If someone assists you to your feet, ensure that he or she doesn’t get hurt, too.
  • Use your cellphone or mobile medical alert device if you need assistance getting up from a fall. In many communities, fire departments are available to help citizens get up from falls, even if no injury is present.
  • Call 911 or emergency medical help if the fall has led to an emergency situation.

After a winter slip on the ice or snow, analyzing why you fell can be helpful in trying to avoid it happening again. Take care of yourself this season, and take preventive action for the future. After a bad fall, you may end up needing short-term rehabilitation to regain your strength, movement, or other abilities. Contact us at The Arbors to help take care of you after a fall, injury, surgery, or illness, and let us help you discover a new way to recover.