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Preventing Slips, Trips, and Falls this Winter

Monday, December 13, 2021

If you’re “dreaming of a white Christmas,” you may want to watch where you step. While snow can be beautiful, it can make for a potential fall hazard and pose a true safety concern.

Winter weather like ice and snow can be dangerous for anyone, but it is especially unsafe for elderly individuals. Every year, one out of every four adults age 65 or older falls.

Falls can lead to various injuries like broken wrists or arms, hip or knee fractures, rotator cuff tears, broken ankles, or concussions.

“All of these injuries will likely require therapy after and have different recovery times based on the type and severity of the injury,” said Darren Smith, Director of Rehabilitation Services at Iredell Health System.

If you do fall, even just once, it increases your chances of falling again.

“After a fall, people often become fearful and try to limit their activity after falling,” he said.

When you are inactive, your muscles begin to weaken, and your balance starts to diminish. This inactivity can increase your risk of another fall.

Luckily, there are ways you can reduce your risk of falling. To avoid slips, trips, and falls this winter, try these strategies:

Keep moving
Exercise can improve leg strength and balance, which may help prevent you from falling. Try Tai Chi or yoga to improve your balance.

Have your eyes checked
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, impaired vision more than doubles your risk of falling. Even small changes in your vision, like getting new glasses, can cause you to fall. Consult with an optometrist at least once a year to make sure your vision has not changed.

Proceed with caution
When going outdoors, take your time and proceed slowly. Icy spots on the ground can be difficult to see. You may not know a spot is icy until you have already slipped. You can “test” the potentially slick areas before stepping on them by tapping them with your foot.

If you have snow or ice on your walkway, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can use sidewalk salt, sand, or even cat litter to make paths less slippery and provide better traction.

Watch for slick indoor floors
Don’t forget to check indoors for slippery floors.

“You can track in rain, snow, and sleet from outside which melt at indoor temperatures. This melting makes for a slippery floor,” said Smith.

Make sure your floors are clear before entering your house.

Wear the proper attire
“When going outside, wear warm clothes, including gloves and shoes with ‘traction’ soles,” said Smith.

Avoid shoes with high heels or soles made from smooth, slippery material, like leather, in icy conditions.

Talk to your doctor
If you are worried about falling this winter, speak to your primary care provider about your concerns. Find out if any of your medications, health conditions, or lifestyle habits could make you more likely to fall.

Unfortunately, falls happen. If you do fall, follow the steps below.

What to do if you fall

  1. If it is safe to do so, remain still until you’ve recovered from the shock of falling and you know if you are injured.
  2. If you cannot get up, shout for help or crawl to the telephone and call 9-1-1. Try to get comfortable while you wait for help, especially if you are alone.
  3. If you can get up safely, roll over onto your side.
  4. Take a moment to rest as your body adjusts.
  5. Get on your hands and knees, and slowly crawl to a sturdy seat.
  6. Support your body by placing your hands on the seat. While kneeling, slide one foot forward so it's flat on the floor.
  7. Lift and turn your body slowly to sit on the seat.

Take the necessary steps to avoid falls and injuries. If you do fall, be sure to let your primary care provider know, even if you were not hurt.