Winter is a wonderful season, most of the time. But it can bring you down. Not only mentally if you find the cold, dark, short days a drag, but also physically, as in a fall.
At this stage in our lives, most Canadian seniors have weathered many a long winter. We know they can be challenging for everyone from little kids to old agers! But little kids are far more resilient than most of us seniors if they slip and fall due to icy and/or snowy conditions.
Unfortunately, freezing cold, wet or snowy weather that brings icy conditions often goes hand in hand with nasty falls. A large percentage of emergency visits and hospitalizations during the winter months are due to folks slipping and falling. Too often the results are broken bones and head injuries, especially for the senior population.
So, how do seniors increase their safety and decrease their risk of falling when bad weather threatens their mobility? Here are six ways to ensure better stability and balance in slippery winter conditions.
1. Stay Active
Do exercises that help you to strengthen your muscles, maintain bone health, and improve your balance. If you’re housebound due to winter weather, do indoor exercises such as standing at a counter and doing knee bends, practice balancing on one leg (with support nearby), march in place, perform leg and toe raises, practice standing up and sitting down from a chair. If you normally do exercises like yoga or Tai Chi with a group, continue at home on your own.
2. Chose Proper Outdoor Footwear
Rubber-soled shoes or boots with a non-skid surface and excellent traction can make a big difference when walking on slippery sidewalks. Add crampons or cleats to your winter boots to provide extra traction on icy surfaces if you’re out for a walk. Also make sure that your winter clothing doesn’t hinder your movement or obstruct your vision so that you can see in all directions.
3. Just ‘Don’t Do It’
Nike has spent millions of dollars telling us to ‘Just do it’, but when the weather outside is nasty, maybe just don’t. Consider changing your plans or using delivery services if you feel that it’s too dangerous for you to go out. If possible, cancel any appointments (by phone) if necessary and explain why. Most people will be understanding if you explain your age and trepidation to go out in bad winter weather.
4. Stay Connected & Have A Safety Plan
If you’re nervous about stepping outdoors when the weather’s snowy or icy, ask a friend, family member or a caregiver to accompany you. If you’re already out and about and encounter a particularly slippery area, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a stranger. Never leave home without your cell phone or a fall alert device so if you do fall, you can call for help quickly. Before heading out, try to let others know where you’re going and when.
5. Keep Walkways & Stairs Clear
Always ensure that walkways are clear of snow and ice in order to prevent falls. If you’re unable to clear the snow and ice yourself, hire someone or ask for help from a neighbour or a family member. Apply plenty of ice melter product to ensure safe stairs, walkways and driveways.
6. Pride Comes Before A Fall
And remember, if there’s a handrail, use it. My 77-year-old partner—he’s in the gym every day, so he’s fit—took a nasty tumble last winter by, of his own admission, “cavalierly” descending the snow and ice-covered stone steps of our condo building without using the handrail on his way to the car. He took a very nasty fall and injured his back, which took three weeks of painful recovery time for him to return to normalcy. Put your pride aside and avoid this fate!
Think Ahead & Be Aware
Assessing your fall risk is just one part of an overall proactive planning process for ageing. Being aware of the higher potential for a fall the older you get and being as well prepared as possible means you’ll be less likely to experience one. It’s true that a slip and fall can happen to anyone, any age, but the older we are the more likely one can happen to us, especially one which is weather-related.
As the old saying goes, “baby, it’s cold out there”—so take extra care.