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Preventing Falls in Winter

Despite what many people think, falling is not a normal part of aging. There are many things we can do to prevent falls, and winter time is a leading culprit that significantly increases the risk of falling.

There are many causes of falls, and some that contribute to fall risk in aging adults include:

  1. Decreased sensation in the feet that leads to an inability to feel the surface you’re standing on.
  2. Multiple medications have the side effect of dizziness and imbalance.
  3. Many older adults walk with an unsteady gait, even when weather is not a factor, which means the addition of ice and snow adds another level of challenge to safe walking.
  4. Weakness from lack of activity increases fall risk substantially. People think avoiding exercise and activity will keep them safe, but the reverse is true.

Almost 3 million older adults per year are treated for fall-related injuries. Almost one million of them require hospitalization, primarily for head injuries or hip fractures. The chances of falling increases after age 65, and significantly worsen after age 75. In older adults, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries. In fact, over 20% of people who suffer a hip fracture will die within one year. Of those that survive, over 50% will never return to their prior baseline.

So, what can you do to help protect yourself from falling, particularly during the winter months? Some of our suggestions include:

  1. Plan trips and errands around the weather when possible. Only leave for essential trips when the weather is poor.
  2. Give yourself plenty of time to get from place to place. Hurrying only makes you more likely to fall.
  3. Be careful when getting in and out of your vehicle. Always hold securely to a door or another person.
  4. Choose alternate routes in and out of buildings and pick the safest entry point, even if it means you have to drive around for an extra minute to find the safest location.
  5. Pride really does go before a fall. Don’t be afraid to ask for help simply because you are embarrassed or feel you are inconveniencing another person. Safety first!
  6. Wear supportive shoes or boots with textures on the bottom that supply adequate grip. Safety is far more important than fashion.
  7. Avoid carrying items to keep hands free for stability and balance.
  8. Use handrails whenever they are provided.
  9. Clean your shoes after going inside. Snow and ice can freeze onto the soles of your shoes and become treacherous, even indoors.
  10. Use your assistive device as it has been prescribed. Canes and walkers were invented for a reason: to keep you safe!

Falls cause many injuries and disrupt normal mobility and quality of life. Take care whenever you step outside the door and always keep in mind the risks associated with weather-related changes. In the case that you do experience a fall, your Oaklawn Physical Rehabilitation team is here to help!