Updated September 30, 2022 – In many parts of the country, it feels like spring has come early, but in just as many, there are inches and sometimes feet of snow accumulation. If you live in a town where winter weather rarely lets up, you may worry about the elderly person in your life.
How can you prevent older adults from slipping in icy conditions?
To keep the elderly from slipping and falling on ice, do the following:
- Don’t wait to shovel until after the snow, as you might prevent the formation of ice if you’re quick
- Add gravel or sand to your driveway or other icy surfaces, as this breaks ice up
- Walk slowly yet deliberately; this goes for caregivers as well
- Make sure your family member has shoes with grooved soles made of rubber
- Consider staying in until conditions improve
In this article, I’ll take a closer look into the above safety tips to help keep older people from a fall accident in icy conditions. I’ll also discuss how to fall safely if you must, so keep reading!
How Do You Stop Yourself From Slipping On Ice?
Ice doesn’t discriminate by age. Anyone, from younger people through senior citizens, could slip and fall on black ice in parking lots or slippery sidewalks.
You can even be at an increased risk of of falling on icy areas of grass if there is a layer of new snow on them.
Injuries from a fall can be quite extensive, including head trauma, broken bones, torn muscles, fractures, and possibly even death from complications.
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among adults age 65 and older, and the age-adjusted fall death rate is increasing. The age-adjusted fall death rate is 64 deaths per 100,000 older adults.Centers For Disease Control And Prevention
While a child or a young adult could potentially recover from a slip and fall on ice, elderly people might not. Their quality of life could change forever.
Per the information in the intro, let’s talk in more detail how to prevent slips on ice.
Shovel Snow Right Away
If it’s cold enough for snow to fall, then the temperatures are low enough for ice to form as well. Snow is simply very cold water that forms into ice crystals.
These crystals typically have pointed edges, so a snowflake resembles a star or even a needle. The edges become rounder as snow accumulates.
Also, there’s less air between the flakes as they pile atop one another, but this doesn’t happen immediately. If given enough time for fluids to get in, ice can form beneath or between the snowflakes.
If you don’t wait for snow to pile up several inches on your lawn, driveway, or walkway, it’s possible you can disrupt the formation of new ice before it can happen.
Yes, I realize this might mean you have to go outside several times to shovel, but it’s necessary.
If you have chronic pain or another health issue that prevents you from shoveling this much, you might rely on a loved one or neighbor to shovel for you.
You can also try applying salt, which could melt the snow.
Use Gravel Or Sand On The Driveway Or Path
If the snow has gotten quite hard and chunky, you might want to use gravel and sand on your lawn or driveway. The friction of these toughened materials allows large chunks of ice or snow to break down.
Learn How To Walk On Snow
I’ll talk about walking techniques for snowy weather in the next section, however I do want to mention now that it’s important to never rush.
If you or an elderly relative have a doctor’s appointment or some other timely event to attend, it’s a good idea to make sure everyone has extra time to get there, especially in the winter months.
Leave early so you can afford to take your time outside in snowy conditions. This is good advice for driving in any inclement weather, as well.
Check Your Footwear
You also want to make sure the senior is wearing the proper footwear for traversing snow and possibly ice.
If their boots or shoes have leather soles, leave them inside until after the snow melts. The same goes for wearing high heels of any kind.
Neither type of footwear will give good traction on slippery surfaces.
There are ice cleats that seniors can use to get extra traction and reduce their chances of falling in slippery conditions. Look for cleats that are lightweight, easy to put on their shoes, and easy to take off.
You should never wear cleats inside, however, as they are very slippery on tile, wood floors, and linoleum.
Decide Whether You Have To Go Out In The First Place
One of the best ways to avoid slips and falls on ice is to stay indoors. If your neighborhood just had a snowstorm, do you and your senior really have to go anywhere, or can it wait?
Most appointments can be postponed and rescheduled unless they’re urgent.
For example, if you go to the grocery store ahead of the storm, there should be no reason to venture out during or immediately after the snow.
Again, this might not always be possible, but try to stay indoors if you can.
How To Walk When It’s Icy
Let’s assume you must go out in bad weather. This isn’t ideal, but in knowing how to walk the right way, it’s possible that an elderly person can reduce the risk of falling.
I want to reiterate again that using the appropriate footwear will really help to make safe walking possible.
Also, it goes without saying that you and the senior should be dressed in a warm coat and should wear gloves and a hat in cold weather, just in case of a fall or being stranded in the car somewhere.
When I lived in Colorado, a young coworker of mine used to go back and forth from home to work in the winter season wearing just her scrubs (we worked in a dental office).
Her reasoning was that there was a heater and heated seats in her car.
I could never get her to understand that if she was in an accident, the car might run out of gas (the end of her warm heater!) before she could get help.
I was stranded after running off the road in a blizzard once, so I knew what I was talking about!
Here’s how to walk when it’s icy:
Do The Penguin Walk – Some people refer to the correct style of walking on ice as the penguin walk, mostly because you sort of waddle like a penguin.
- The senior should bend their body so it’s facing forward and downward.
- Then, they need their feet flat on the ground, managing their center of gravity with each step they take as it is shifted above the feet.
- Then, just sort of shuffle or waddle forward.
Go One Small Step At A Time – Besides the style in which the senior walks, the pace will also be altered in snow and ice. Go very slowly, taking things one step at a time. Short steps are best here, as by overextending, the senior could end up injured.
Again, make sure to leave plenty of time if venturing out after a snowstorm. Think of how long it takes you and your senior to get ready to go anywhere, then double the time, as that’s a more realistic frame for reaching your destination.
Have Your Hands Out Of Your Pockets – Make sure your senior is outfitted in gloves or mittens so they don’t feel the urge to stuff their hands in their pockets.
Instead, they should walk with their hands to either side of their body.
Use Sidewalks And Walkways – Don’t make walking more difficult by using paths that clearly haven’t be shoveled.
Stick to sidewalks and walkways only, as these are public walking spaces, so there’s a better chance someone salted or shoveled them. That doesn’t necessarily mean the paths will be completely clear, but they’re a safer bet than an un-shoveled street.
*TIP: Carry a small bag of kitty litter or sand and scatter it on the path ahead to help with your footing.
How Can You Safely Fall On Ice?
While you hope the senior in your life never has to experience the terror that is falling on ice, it’s always best to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. There is a way to fall safely on ice that may minimize injury risk, so make sure your senior knows exactly what to do.
- They want to begin by bending their knees as much as they can. This puts them nearer the ground, which means they can’t fall as far.
- While they bend their knees, they should move their arms as well. Brace them over the chest on either side so the arms are crossed over top each other. This can reduce the risk of a broken arm or hand.
- Next, the senior should put their head down so their chin is touching their chest (or is close to it). This is arguably the most important step besides bending their knees, as it could prevent their head from colliding with the ground.
- If the senior can, they should try angling their body. The goal here is to land on their side rather than the front of their body or their back.
What To Do When You Slip And Fall On Ice
What if the elderly person in your life slipped and fell before you could teach them the proper way to do so? If you saw it happen, you’re going to feel very panicked. The senior could be seriously hurt.
Remember to stay calm and then follow these steps:
Encourage The Senior To Stay Put
A slip and fall can increase one’s adrenaline, much like a car accident can. Thus, even though a serious injury may have occurred, your senior might not necessarily feel it right away. In fact, they may even try to scramble to their feet to avoid embarrassment.
This isn’t the best move, as a senior can aggravate and even cause new injuries by standing too rapidly.
Tell the senior to stay where they are for now. If you can move them to a drier area without them getting up, then by all means, please do so.
Check Them For Injuries
Next, you want to look for visible injuries. These may include cuts, bruises, and lacerations.
Ask The Senior About Their Pain
More than likely, you won’t be able to see much.
First, there’s the matter that traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and fractures–all of which are common after a slip and fall on ice–do not leave visible symptoms. Also, your senior should be bundled up, so there might not be a lot of exposed skin to see.
That’s why you should ask the senior how they’re feeling.
Don’t be surprised if they understate their pain. Again, they might not feel the full extent of their injuries because of their adrenaline spike. Once they come down in a few hours or even days, then they can accurately report on their pain.
Call An Ambulance
That said, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you witnessed the fall and the senior seems potentially hurt, then call an ambulance. The medical staff can transport your senior to the hospital.
In less severe situations, you can take the senior to the doctor that same day.
The Best Soles For Ice
While I’ve talked about the shoes your senior shouldn’t wear when walking on potentially icy sidewalks, I have only touched on the safest soles for snowy weather.
As I said in the intro, you want to ensure the senior wears shoes with rubber soles. These flat shoes should have grooves and grips underneath that are designed for ice and snow. They should be non-slip as well.
In addition, cleats are a great option, even for boots or shoes that have rubber soles because cleats provide extra grip on a slippery surface.
There are a couple of choices in cleats:
- Rubber soled cleats with steel studs: They cover most of the bottom or a shoe or boot and are light and foldable so you can carry them in a pocket or purse. This type seems to wear out / break quicker than the chain cleats. *TIP: For maximum traction, we recommend cleats that cover the entire sole, not just the cleats that strap across the toes of your shoes or boots.
- Chain cleats with or without spikes: Also lightweight and easy to carry in a pocket or purse.
*NOTE – always remove cleats when you aren’t on ice and snow! They are very slippery on hardwood, linoleum, tile, or concrete floors.
If the winter makes you nervous as an adult child or caretaker of an elder, that’s completely understandable. Rather than just hoping your senior doesn’t slip on ice, you can be proactive.
Shovel sidewalks and driveways so they can’t form ice, make sure your senior has shoes with rubber soles and cleats, and show them the proper way to fall on ice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you wear sneakers on ice?
What can I put on ice to stop slipping?
How To Prevent Hypothermia In The Elderly
Are Electric Blankets Safe For The Elderly?
7 Simple Winter Fall Prevention Tips For Seniors