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Avoiding Falls: Winter Safety Tips for Seniors

  • Category: News, Physical Therapy
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  • Written By: Allied Services Integrated Health
Avoiding Falls: Winter Safety Tips for Seniors

With the start of winter comes a return to colder temperatures, snow and ice, and for some, a trip to the emergency room. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, approximately 1 million Americans are injured each year due to falling on snow and ice. Common causes of falls include muscle weakness, changes in gait or balance, vision problems, pre-existing medical conditions that limit mobility, conditions that cause dementia, low blood pressure, and the use of an assistive walking device.

Venturing outdoors in winter can be especially hazardous for older adults as they are more likely to have one or more of these risk factors. For example, older adults are more likely to experience declining hearing, eyesight, and reflexes. They may be taking multiple medications with side effects that include dizziness, confusion, and sudden drops in blood pressure and dizziness. Older adults may experience a decline in sensation in their feet due to diabetes, poor circulation, or arthritis, affecting balance and gait. Also, many older adults may be unsteady on their feet due to weakened muscles from inactivity. There are some common-sense steps we can all take to prevent falls:

  • Take your time. Take small, slow steps, and don’t try to cut corners. The shortest route may not be the safest.
  • Free your hands. If you can, avoid carrying heavy loads that may cause instability.
  • Exercise caution. Stay alert when getting into and out of vehicles. Make sure to maintain a firm grip on the door or the person assisting you. Ensure that you have both feet on the ground before climbing out of the car.
  • Dress for the weather. Make sure you have proper fitting winter boots with good traction. Remember to wear gloves to avoid having to keep your hands in your pockets to stay warm.
  • Use proper equipment. If you usually use a cane to walk, don’t leave it at home. If you must go out in the snow, find a cane with a rubber base or one that offers traction.
  • Ask for help. Whether it’s having someone clear your walk of snow, carry a bag in from the car, or run an errand for you, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reducing risk might sometimes mean staying home or asking for help.

While these are all valuable strategies to employ during winter, there is still more that seniors can do to protect themselves from falls. Make a point to discuss your medications and any side effects with your physician and pharmacist. Similarly, you should make it a habit to get routine eye exams to ensure that conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, or declining eyesight don’t go unnoticed.

Managing your health year-round is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of a fall as you age, and this includes maintaining the health of your bones and muscles. As we age, it is common for our bone density to decrease, especially for women due to hormonal changes. In turn, low bone density increases the risk of fall-related injuries. Your doctor may recommend calcium and vitamin D supplements and refer you to a physical therapist for an exercise routine. An evaluation and treatment plan by a physical therapist can identify and address your specific fall risk factors. Treatment may include strengthening and range of motion exercises, balance training on various surfaces, postural control, core strengthening, and vestibular rehabilitation.

Learn more about the Fall Prevention Program at Allied Services.