Expert Health Articles

Avoiding Winter Falls

Falls during winter weather can lead to many types of injuries such as fractures of the wrists, legs, ankles and hip, as well as cause potential head, neck or brain injuries. It is nearly impossible to completely avoid ice and snow this time of year, but there are some steps that you can take to help reduce your risk of falling. They are as follows.

First of all, be aware of your surroundings. Avoid distractions such as your cell phone and take time to pay attention to the surfaces on which you are walking or getting ready to walk on. Try to pick areas that are well lit when you are parking and walking, so that you can see any ice that is in your path, especially so that you can see black ice. Choose walkways that are well-cleared, even if that is not the most direct and convenient route.

When walking on ice, walk with short, shuffling steps and keep feet as flat as possible (walk like a penguin). Also, if there is something sturdy close by, use it to help guide your balance. For example, use a handrail if one is available. Or, as you are getting out of your car in an icy parking lot, hold onto the car to help with balance. Additionally, when you are getting out of your car in an icy area, place both feet firmly on the ground before getting up to help with balance.

Avoid carrying heavy bags that may throw off your center of gravity. Keep your torso balanced and straight over your feet. Keep your hands out of your pockets. You can help break your fall with your hands free, if you do start to slip, or placing your arms out to your side can help to maintain your balance.

When transitioning from the bright outdoor environment to indoor areas, stop briefly to allow your vision to catch up with the change in lighting, in order to recognize hazards ahead.

Remember, do not hurry! Take your time while walking over ice and snow. Also, be sure to wear good shoes with appropriate traction. Rubber-soled shoes are best. You can also use various types of traction devices that slip over the shoes. Also, use salt or sand on icy walkways when possible.

Once you are home, take off your snowy or wet shoes as soon as possible to avoid causing wet floors that could lead to a fall at home. If there are any wet spots, dry them as soon as possible.

Take extra precautions if you are over 65 years of age; take four or more medications; have had a fall in the last six months; use a cane or a walker; have difficulty with balance; have risks that could make a fall more serious, such as osteoporosis or are taking blood thinners.

The aforementioned factors can increase your risk of a fall and increase the risk of a serious event if you happen to fall. Due to that, avoid icy conditions as much as possible. On snowy, icy days, cancel non-essential appointments and activities. Try to get errands done before a storm or hazardous weather comes. Keep exercise indoors for a few days as needed. When you do need to go out, take your time and be as careful as possible.

Activate the buddy system by making sure someone knows you are “on the move,” and check-in with that person when you arrive and depart. If they do not hear from you, then they will be alerted to something potentially going wrong and can intervene, if needed. Make sure if you have a mobile phone available and keep it on your person. In the event of a fall, you will have the resource to notify emergency personnel.

Jen Vorhees, MSN, MBA-HC, RN, CPHQ
Corporate Associate and Patient Safety Manager
Quality Department