Trips and falls are frequently used on TV as comic relief, starting as a dance-like ordeal and ending in a dramatic fall. However, actual falls are no laughing matter. In fact, fall-related injuries are one of the leading causes of death in the elderly. They are also very often the pivotal moment in an older person’s life, when they become partially or fully dependent on other people. A recent Canadian study shows that 30 percent of older adult have at least one fall each year, and nearly 25 percent of falls cause serious injuries, such as joint dislocations, lacerations, fractures, and severe head injuries. While we aren’t in Canada, we have our share of nasty winter weather, and the dangers of slipping on the ice are just as real. The study delved into whether sending out weather alerts changed the statistics. Turns out, freezing rain conditions that resulted in alerts were commensurate with a 20 percent increase in older people falling, while there was a slight decrease in accidents when there was a snowstorm warning. Males were almost one-third more likely than women to fall on days with freezing rain warnings, but women had a higher total rate of falls. While stronger cautions against venturing outside in icy conditions might be advantageous, the bottom line is that people are getting seriously injured on the ice, and the elderly need to be particularly careful. Slipping on ice can happen without warning. There isn’t much time to react, and suddenly you have a broken arm or leg, dislocated shoulder or hip, deep cuts, bruises, general pain, muscle strain, spinal cord injuries, or even a concussion. It’s nearly impossible to avoid going outside all winter, so it’s important to use extreme caution. Secure footwear is advised, such as shoes or boots that have deep tread or removable traction cleats. Avoid wearing multifocal eyeglasses when walking where it’s slippery. Steer clear of alcohol and sedatives, because both can affect your balance and coordination. Taking small steps can also help, as it allows more control over where you are stepping and how much pressure you are putting on each step. Many fall-related injuries require surgery, which can lead to a chain reaction of issues in older adults by opening them up for a world of complications. Prevention is the best medicine. In slippery weather conditions, consider:
- Increasing the amount of travel time you allot for walking and for driving.
- If you need to walk on ice, bend your knees slightly and take short steps.
- Not carrying large loads that can throw you off balance or block your view.
- If falling, resist the temptation to let your hands or wrists take the brunt of the impact when you fall. Too much pressure on joints can quickly lead to breaks.