The risk of falls increases for seniors once winter sets in. Winter falls also have a higher chance of leading to a traumatic injury and death, according to an article from the Mayo Clinic. Even something as simple as going to the mailbox or taking out the garbage becomes more treacherous in winter!
To help you stay safe, here are some winter fall prevention tips for seniors:
- Don’t go out if you don’t have to.
- Slow down and give yourself extra time.
- Dress for the weather, even if you don’t think you’ll be outside for long.
- Carry a cell phone, even for a quick trip to the mailbox.
- Wear non-slip boots or shoes or use cleats.
- Use something to steady yourself.
- Clear your path and / or spread something on the ground for traction as you walk.
How Can We Prevent Winter Falls?
In the Mayo Clinic article I referred to above, Dr. Jeremy L. Fogelson, a neurosurgeon at the Mayo Clinic’s Rochester, MN campus explains that winter conditions can lead to more falls in seniors because, “They are more likely to have an unsteady gait, and the bones are less strong and flexible. Also, depending on an elderly person’s physical state, sidewalks may not be tended to as much and icy conditions will build up.”
Orthopedic injuries from falls, such as broken bones in the wrist, arm, ankle or hip, are common in all seasons. For older adults, falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, which ultimately can be fatal. Even for elderly patients who do not die due to injury from a fall, consequences can lead to nursing home stays and subsequent health decline. – Mayo Clinic
In order for the elderly to prevent winter falls, they should take certain precautions before going outside – especially in snowy or icy conditions. Read through these steps in the following sections.
Don’t Go Out If You Don’t Have To
Think about it – do you REALLY need to get the mail, take out the garbage, or run to the grocery store if it is snowy and icy? Trust me, the mail can wait and the garbage can be set outside the door for drop off into a bin when the snow has been cleared.
Keeping an eye of the weather forecast will allow you to stock up on necessities before a winter storm hits. And there are tons of delivery services out there now.
Companies like UberEats or GrubHub will bring food right to your door. The majority of grocery stores also offer delivery services. It’s worth paying for these, on occasion, to keep you safe.
Slow Down And Give Yourself Extra Time
If you must go out after a winter storm, don’t be in a hurry.
Leave extra early so you aren’t trying to hustle across a slippery parking lot because you’re running late. Walk slowly to minimize your risk of falling. Carry your cellphone, just in case you fall and need to call for help.
Dress For The Weather
PLEASE put on a winter coat, hat, scarf, and gloves when you go out for ANY reason in the winter!
People think they are fine to make the short trek to the mail box or garbage cans, so they often just dash out without dressing properly for the weather.
Then, BOOM, they slip and fall and could end up laying there for who knows how long? You’re risking hypothermia and worse if you go outside without dressing for the weather.
ALWAYS Carry A Cell Phone Or Other Alert Device
My former mom-in-law just spent part of the summer recovering from a broken leg. She’s 85 and she fell when she went out to put the garbage in the bins across the driveway from her apartment. She wasn’t wearing her Life Alert, because she was “just” going maybe 100 feet from her door.
Luckily, it was summer, so she didn’t freeze to death – because this poor, sweet lady laid on the ground, calling for help, for close to four hours before a car full of young men spotted her. They called 911 and stayed with her until the ambulance arrived.
Her fall was bad enough, but can you imagine how awful the outcome would have been if this had happened in the winter?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll “just” dash out and be right back. Always err on the side of caution – dress properly (and TAKE YOUR CELL PHONE!).
Forget About Being Stylish
When it’s snowy or icy, forget about wearing cute, fashionable boots – wear non-slip boots and shoes and consider using cleats on them (see next section).
You can always bring the stylish footwear with you and change into them when you are inside your destination. Believe me, it’s not worth a fall just to be a fashionista.
Okay, so they aren’t very attractive, but again, it’s not worth risking a broken limb or a worse injury if you need to go out in ice and snow. Get a pair to leave in the car, as well.
*NOTE – always remove cleats when you aren’t on ice and snow! They are very slippery on hardwood, linoleum, tile, or concrete floors.
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.
Use Something To Steady Yourself
If you are unsteady on your feet, you should be using a cane or a walker already (and that’s even more reason why you shouldn’t go out on a snowy or icy day!).
For use in winter weather, you should replace your regular cane tip with an ice gripper cane tip.
If you don’t normally use an assistive device, it can be helpful to walk with a ski pole or a cane – even a broom – that can be used to steady yourself on slippery ground.
For those who use wheelchairs, you (or a handy friend / relative) can make DIY “snow tires” using plastic wire ties. The project instructions can be found on the United Spinal Association website.
Clear Your Path And / Or Spread Something On The Ground For Traction
It can be very helpful to spread something on the ground in front of you to give you traction as you walk. The Mayo Clinic suggests carrying a small bag of kitty litter or sand with you when you walk. You can sprinkle handfuls of this material as you go, although this is only practical if you are walking a short distance, such as to the mailbox.
If you already live in a snowy area, you are familiar with using a snow melt substance on sidewalks and steps, but using these products doesn’t eliminate one hundred percent of the ice.
When I lived in Colorado, I still slipped on steps that had already been treated. If the steps or path is wet and the temperature is below freezing, the wet pavement will still have a slight film of ice on it.
And don’t think that walking on the grass will keep you from falling, either. Grass can be wet and slippery after a light, wet snow. I know – I’ve skidded a foot or two on snowy grass before.
When Should You Go To The Doctor After A Fall?
If you do go outside in winter and end up slipping and falling on snow or ice, the Mayo Clinic recommends that you:
- Don’t get up right away or let anyone help you up immediately; this avoids the potential of causing further injury. Don’t worry about feeling embarrassed. Rather, take your time, lie there for a moment and assess how you are feeling.
- After making an assessment of your injury status, if you can get up, roll to one side. Bend your knees toward you, push up with your arms and then use your legs to stand up the rest of the way.
- If someone assists you to your feet, ensure that he or she doesn’t get hurt, too.
- Use your cellphone or mobile medical alert device if you need assistance getting up from a fall. In many communities, fire departments are available to help citizens get up from falls, even if no injury is present.
- Call 911 or emergency medical help if the fall has led to an emergency situation.
The number of falls and emergency room visits increases for the elderly during the winter months. By planning ahead and taking simple steps to prevent or reduce the risk of falls in winter, seniors can stay safer.