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20 February 2018
Sledding, ice skating, skiing… there are a lot of wonderful things about winter. But unfortunately, when snow falls, so do people. According to the US Center for Disease Control, 2.8 million seniors are treated annually for injuries related to falling. That equates to roughly one out of every three adults age 65 and older! What’s more is that half of these falls take place when walking on even surfaces. Add in some slick conditions, such as snow and ice, and you have a recipe for disaster.
That doesn’t mean that when the calendar flips to December we must reserve ourselves to being hermits for the next three months. Here are some tips that can take the winter blues and change them into the winter do’s.
We already know that it’s all about the shoes when it comes to accessorizing and completing an outfit (well, at least women know this already). Wearing proper footwear is the first step to preventing falls. Rubber soles are the best pick for maintaining traction and grip. You can even go above and beyond by investing in some gripper shoe covers (available at most sporting goods stores) to enhance tread. Don’t forget your assistive devices either! If you use a cane, add an ice gripper tip that utilizes spikes to better grip the ice.
If possible, try to plan your trips outside around the weather forecast. Of course, there are times when Mother Nature surprises us or we have an appointment we can’t skip. When that’s the case and we have to leave our homes to venture out into wintery conditions, be sure to give yourself enough time. Chances of falling increases when we are rushing – whether we are walking too fast or not paying attention to where we are walking. Instead, safety comes from walking “consciously” – being mindful of each step and where we are walking.
Besides walking consciously, we can also prepare ourselves for unexpected walking conditions. Carry a small bag of kitty litter with you or in your car or pocket. You can easily spread some down before walking to add traction. Parking lots are often the biggest culprits of black ice. Before getting out of your car, check for ice and/or throw some litter down. Choose the clearest path when entering a building, noting that this may not always be the main entrance. There may be another entrance that is clearer. Perhaps a side entrance receives more sun, which helps to melt the snow and ice and therefore, make it a safer entrance for you.
There are a few things we can learn from our Antarctic friends who have to deal with slippery conditions on a daily basis. When walking, take short shuffling steps. Curl your toes under and try to walk as flat footed as possible. Be sure that your arms and hands are by your sides. Often, people don’t wear gloves and then find themselves with their hands in their pockets to keep warm. However, this prevents you from keeping your balance and having the ability to grab something should you find yourself falling, which also means, no cellphones! Staying alert means not having your hands and eyes at your phone.
What do healthy eyes have to do with your legs keeping you upright? While healthy vision and walking may seem unrelated, ensuring that your glasses are always fit with the latest prescription ensures that you can see where you’re going. Besides the snow and ice, obstacles are all around us, requiring a keen eye to avoid them. Shorter days in winter also means less daylight to see where we are going. Be sure to carry a flashlight with you, even if it’s a small one that affixes to your keys. The less time spent looking for the door handle or fiddling with a lock is less time we put ourselves at risk for falling.
There is no shame in asking for help, especially when it means saving costly hospital bills or your life! If you can’t get out to shovel sidewalks or driveways, there are plenty of eager teenagers who would love to earn a few extra bucks. Most grocery stores would be happy to assist you in putting the groceries into your car. And if stairs are an issue, outdoor stairlifts can safely whisk you from your porch to your car.
These tips may seem basic, but they can save a life. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries. Because walking is so autonomic (occurs unconsciously, like blinking), we often are more vulnerable to overlooking all the dangers along the way. We can practice these tips all year round to ensure safer and happier days.
Sources: https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html, http://www.injuryhelpline.com/blog/slip-fall-injury-snow-ice/, https://www.ncoa.org/resources/winterize-to-prevent-falls
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