5 Winter Slip and Fall Prevention Tips for Seniors
As New Hampshire residents, we’re no stranger to harsh winter weather conditions and we know a “wintery mix” all too well. As beautiful as our snowy New England winters can be, they sometimes create icy conditions that can lead to slips and falls if the right steps aren’t taken…literally.
If you’ve ever watched children playing in the snow, then you’ve probably seen them slip and fall. They’ll usually look around first, to see if anyone noticed, then quickly jump back up to their feet with a smile and continue playing. Unfortunately, the older we get, the harder we fall and the longer it can take us to bounce back after a spill. Winter slips and falls can be very serious, especially for seniors, leading to sprains, fractures, broken ankles, wrists or even hips. What starts as a quick stroll through the snow (what’s the worst that could happen, right?) can leave even the most limber of us laid up in a hospital bed with a cast on until spring.
Take these five steps to avoid slips and falls this winter:
It’s very important to wear the right footwear when walking on icy surfaces. You should wear boots with rubber or neoprene soles that will provide a good amount of grip and traction. If you’ve been wearing the same winter boots since Reagan was in office, it’s probably time for a new pair. Resist the urge to wear your comfy slippers or cozy moccasins while walking outside to grab the paper. Wearing smooth soled shoes made of leather or plastic on slick surfaces can often lead to falls.
It’s also important to bundle up when you’re heading outside, even if it’s just for a short time. If you’re nice and warm in your winter coat and hat, you’ll be less likely to tense your muscles up and rush to get inside out of the cold. Unless you’re being chased by a polar bear, hurrying on ice is never a good idea. It also can’t hurt to have a little extra padding between you and the hard ground if you do take a tumble. It is also advised to wear gloves or mittens so you’re not tempted to put your hands in your pockets. You’ll need your arms free so you can use them to steady yourself if you lose your balance. The bottom line is, worry about fashion once the ice melts. If the ground is still slippery, safety comes first, so bundle yourself up like the abominable snowman before venturing out!
Step Carefully and Walk Like a…Penguin?
When walking outside during icy conditions, you want to make sure that each step is slow and intentional. If you suspect an area is covered in black ice, explore it with your toe to see how slippery it is before you put your full weight on it. You should take very small steps and spread your feet out slightly, to increase your center of gravity. There’s a reason those lovable arctic birds are always waddling around. Yes, walking like a penguin will help keep you upright!
Also, be sure not to carry anything large or bulky, and always use handrails when possible. If you’re still worried about slipping, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone wants to be able to say they helped a nice old man or sweet old lady cross the street today. They’ll be happy you asked!
Try to stay on level, well-lit, paths that have been cleared and salted. You also want to be extra cautious during high-risk situations like climbing up or down steps and getting in and out of vans. If you live in an area with harsh winters, you may want to consider buying a special cane that has a non-slip tip. You can also buy a cane with a sharp retractable ice pick that is designed for walking on icy surfaces. As a bonus, it can also double as a weapon if someone took the last cookie in the jar and you want it for yourself (just kidding!).
If possible, try to stay indoors if walking conditions outside are unsafe. If you must go out, try not to go out alone. If you do slip and fall, you’ll want someone with you who can get help if necessary. If you must go out alone, take a cell phone or life alert system with you.
Slippery When Wet
A surprising number of slips and falls actually happen once you get back indoors. Entrance ways can quickly become wet and dangerous, so be careful when you’re walking into a place with smooth floors in your slippery shoes. Always wipe your wet or snowy shoes off on a mat upon entering a building. You’ll be safer AND look like you have good manners—it’s a win, win!
Maintain Your Balance & Muscle Strength
Winter slip and fall prevention shouldn’t just start when the temperature drops. It’s important to stay active all year long and work to improve your overall balance and muscle strength. You’ll be less likely to slip and fall, and less likely to be injured, if you do fall. Low-impact strength training exercises and water aerobics are great ways to maintain flexibility and muscle tone. At Havenwood Heritage Heights, our residents love our Tai Chi classes, and find them very helpful for improving stability and flexibility. Tai Chi is a low-impact form of martial art that has several other incredible benefits for seniors. Last but not least, it’s important for seniors to take steps to maintain strong and healthy bones.
If you DO fall: (Hey, it happens to the best of us). Resist the urge to catch yourself with your arms. Make yourself into a small ball, and tuck and roll. Stay loose and try to keep your arms and legs bent. Most importantly, try to protect your head and face from the fall. Try to turn so that you land on your side if possible.
At Havenwood Heritage Heights, the safety of our residents is our most important priority, so we take winter slip and fall prevention extremely seriously. We closely monitor winter weather conditions in order to take preemptive measures that ensure all walkways, driveways, and entrances are cleared, salted and safe.
We hope that by following the steps above, you’ll have a slip free season and make Brian Boitano look like an amateur when it comes to navigating the ice!