For all of us, we are engulfed by this winter season that brings weather conditions – cold, rain, ice, and snow. These conditions increase our risk of falling due to environmental hazards.
Last week, a dear friend of mine who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, shared a very worrisome winter fall experience. On a snowy evening before dinner, her husband had left the house to run an errand to the store and planned to be back within 20-25 minutes. Twenty five minutes, 35, and 45 minutes passed, and he had not returned home. She tried calling him, texting him, and no answer. She decided to go out and look for him. She got her keys, purse, opened the front door, and saw that his truck was indeed parked on their garage driveway. She walked over to the truck and as she got closer, she found her husband on the ground, in the snow, at the side of the trunk He was alert, had been calling for help, but she, having been in the house, did not hear him. He did not have his phone on him, as he fell, slipping on the snow, when getting out of the truck after going to the store; so, his phone was still in the truck. Her husband twisted his right ankle during his fall, and hit the back of his head on the truck running board during the fall. Of course, she called EMS, he was rescued, taken to the ER. His ankle was repaired and casted, and he was luckily did not have a head injury. He was treated and returned home with his wife and crutches. Thank goodness my friend had gone out to look for her husband. She found her husband who had returned home, fallen getting out of his truck, and suffered an injury, lying in the bitter cold weather at night, unable to call for help.
As my friend shared her and her husband’s scary experience, we started talking about special fall prevention strategies to increase fall prevention safety during the winter months. Next, I set out to search for winter fall prevention resources. I am sharing these with you, to “winterize” your fall prevention precautions. In my research of fall prevention strategies during the winter, I found several resources with important tips to share with you, and am sharing three that I found most helpful.
American Bone Health. Tips to Prevent Falls During Winter Months
American Bone Health (ABH) is dedicated to teaching everyone how have strong and healthy bones over one’s lifetime. They have lots of resources to engage, educate and empower you to prevent bone loss, osteoporosis and fractures. By preventing falls, we prevent fractures.
ABH recommends 8 tips to help you maintain your balance and move confidently across snowing, icy and wet surfaces. Their tips are available here. Among these tips that address foot wear, warm clothing, pay careful attention to surfaces and more, they address being careful getting in and out of a car. As one of their strategies, they recommend planting both feet firmly on the ground before moving, and steading one’s self on the door frame until steady with balance confirmed. Another strategy that deals with walking is for you to look ahead while you walk, and stay aware of surfaces ahead. Only look down with your eyes, because sometimes bending your head downwards can shift your balance, increasing your risk of falling. This is the only resource that I found that cautions older adults when walking at night or in shadowy areas, to be alert for black ice, which is described as treacherous and extremely slippery.
Mayo Clinic Health System. How to Avoid Winter Slips and Falls
Lair (2022), on behalf of the Mayo Clinic Health System, also cautions adults about falls due to slips and falls and the injury rate that increases significantly in colder weather. Their fall prevention strategies complement other organizations, and also include use of assistance (i.e. handrails, walking stick, walker and cane), taking small steps – even shuffling or waddling like a penguin, and wearing lightweight boots with good support. They suggest applying snow grips on the bottoms of shoes and boots to decrease slips. If you start to lose your balance and start to fall, their guidance is to NOT try and break your fall by reaching out with your arms, because that can sustain more injuries. Rather, try to curl up like a ball and try to collapse to a side and take the impact on buttocks or back. After the fall, wait for someone to help you in case you’re injured and avoid further injuring yourself by trying to get up or fall again. They produced a great instructional video teaching you how to fall, and other tips to prevent falls on their website available here. Scroll down the page to the video: Safety Tips for Walking in Icy Conditions. It is only 3:23 minutes. Please take the opportunity to view this brief video. Wayne Street RN, a trauma RN, will teach you about the added risks of falls and injuries in the winter, demonstrate about how to fall, and tell you about the cleats that slip onto your shoes to prevent slips and falls.
National Council On Aging (NCOA): Avoiding Slips and Trips
The National Council on Aging’s major precautions during the winter months are to help you prevent slips and trips, like other others reviewed, available here. Reminding everyone that slips, trips and falls are outcomes of winter weather, Renfro (2020) recommends 5 strategies that first guides everyone to raise awareness by reading and sharing their core 6 steps to prevent falls, available here that should be followed always, irrespective of the season. These steps begin with asking for a fall risk screening, like you have done with Harmony Health, and in alignment with the fall risk screening for older adults recommended by CDC’s STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Death, and Injuries) program, completed by Primary Care Providers. Renfro continues to suggest that you carry kitty litter for slick surfaces that you cast out in front of you as you walk outside. I found this to be an interesting strategy that reduces slips on slick surfaces. In addition to home tools and equipment that reduce your fall risks (motion-sensor fall alarms, raised toilet seats, grab bars, etc.), they offer specific strategies to “Winterize” your shoes, boots and assistive devices which was a new term to me: attach snow gripper sole covers to shoes for extra stability when walking on slippery surfaces, available from sporting goods stores; choose winter shoes with rubber soles to maintain traction on slippery surfaces; and attach an ice gripper cane tip that has spikes on the bottom of our cane to penetrate the ice and secure a firm grip, which can be purchased online. If you or you know of anyone who relies on wheelchair mobility outside, they have great tips for wheelchair safely in the snow available at wc safety.
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope these resources and tips are useful to you, your family and friends during this winter season. I also hope that you will take time to review the links that I have provided, and the great instructional video newly created by the Mayo Clinic. I would love to learn from you as well. Please share with me and others tips that you implement to reduce your fall risks during these snowing and icy months. I look forward to hearing from you.
Stay strong, active, safe, and connected with your healthcare team. Together, Harmony Health Solutions is providing care to improve your health, function and safety.
Your Harmony Team is here to help you!
Thank you for reading this message and in advance for sharing with others.
Wishing you a very special Holiday Season,
American Bone Health. (2016, Oct. 4). Tips to Prevent Falls During Winter Months. Available at https://americanbonehealth.org/fall-prevention/tips-to-prevent-falls-during-winter-months/
Accessed January 7, 2022
Lair, B. (2022, Jan. 6). How to Avoid Winter Slips and Falls. Speaking Health. Mayo Clinic Health System. Available at: https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/winter-weather-are-falls-and-slips-avoidable
Accessed Jan. 7, 2022.
Renfro, M.O. (2020, Oct. 1). Winterize to Prevent Falls. Fall Prevention for Older Adults. NCOA. Available at: https://www.ncoa.org/article/winterize-to-prevent-falls
Accessed Jan. 7, 2022.
Landsman, Z. (2019, Jan. 18) Winter Weather Wheelchair Tips. Blog. United Spinal Association. Available at https://unitedspinal.org/winter-weather-wheelchair-tips/
Accessed Jan. 8, 2021