Avoiding Winter Falls

We had our first snowy morning this week with a bit of ice on the ground as many of us were heading out on Monday. As the first day of winter approaches, visits to hospital emergency rooms due to falls will increase in the coming weeks.

According to the U.S. Administration for Community Living (www.acl.gov), falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people 65 years of age and older. Every 14 seconds, an older adult is seen in an emergency department for a fall-related injury.

Falls tend to increase during the winter months, especially with wet, cold and slippery conditions.  In addition, more falls seem to occur around the holidays. An article “The Most Common Injuries Around the Holidays According to ER Doctors” on the blog 24/7 Wall St listed 14 types of injury—five of which were caused by falls.

About half of all falls occur at home. The incidence of falls increases after age 50 and gradually rises with age, as does the risk for severe injuries and mortality. One-in-four Americans aged 65+ falls every year. Falls are costly—in dollars and in quality of life.  However, falling is not an inevitable part of aging

No matter what your age, you can reduce your risk for falls by improving your strength, balance and flexibility, and by taking steps to make your home is safe.

Make your home safer

  • Keep sidewalks and steps free of snow and ice
  • Remove clutter that could easily be tripped over in places where you walk
  • Remove small throw rugs
  • Keep items you use frequently within reach to avoid the need to use a step stool
  • Improve lighting in the home
  • Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower
  • Wear shoes that provide good support and have non-slip soles
  • If you use a cane or a walker, your doctor or physical therapist should check to make sure that your cane is sized properly and that you are using your cane correctly when walking

Exercise regularly
Exercise that includes a combination of weight lifting (resistance training) and cardio exercises can reduce the incidence of falls by making you stronger and more coordinated. Regular physical activity is essential to improving and maintaining strength, flexibility, and balance to prevent falls.

Some people believe that the best way to prevent falls is to stay at home and limit their activity. This is simply not true. Staying active and strong with a good range of motion will help you avoid falls and will help you stay independent.

Review your medications
Falls are often an indication of other underlying conditions such as gait or balance problems that may be related to medications. Some medicines or certain combinations of medicines can interact adversely and cause drowsiness or lightheadedness.

Get your vision checked
Your eyeglass prescription may need to be updated or you may have a condition like glaucoma or cataracts that can limit your vision.

When should you see a doctor?
If you have any concerns after a fall, get medical attention. If you have a condition like osteoporosis that puts you at higher risk for fracture, definitely see your doctor. Also, keep in mind that as we age, sometimes our pain threshold becomes greater, so pain may be more difficult to gauge.

The following symptoms are reasons to go to the emergency department:

  • Significant amount of pain or swelling
  • Limited motion of a limb
  • Any changes in alertness or mental status, headaches, dizziness, or visual changes
  • Loss of sensation or movement in a limb

Winter can be beautiful. But, it sometimes comes with challenges. Make sure you stay safe during icy conditions.