Falls prevention during winter - 5 tips for seniors

by Richard T. Moore, President of Mass. Assisted Living Association
Richard T. Moore, President of Massachusetts Assisted Living Association. MALA photo.

Falls prevention, especially among seniors, is a serious and important topic year round. In a region like New England that is widely known for its beautiful, yet temperamental, winters, proactively taking steps to reduce falls and stay safe is even more crucial.  According to the World Health Organization, there is a correlation between pronounced changes in seasonal temperatures, especially colder temperatures during the winter months, and an increased risk of falls, particularly among older women.

Falls can be exceedingly serious, and for older adults they can result in the loss of mobility and in some cases even death. In addition, the fear of falling on icy surfaces may prevent seniors from leaving their homes which can contribute to a feeling of isolation. Because of these potentially restrictive scenarios, it is important for older adults to know the potentials dangers they face during the winter months, and also actively take the steps necessary to stay safe.

Falls prevention is a top priority for the Massachusetts Assisted Living Association (Mass-ALA). Residing in an assisted living community reduces the feelings of isolation that seniors may feel, and assisted living communities’ focus on falls prevention contributes to a sense of safety. However, with another unpredictable season fast approaching, here are five falls prevention tips for seniors in all living environments:

  1. Salt and sand. As we all know, icy sidewalks, stairs, and driveways can be exceedingly treacherous to people of any age, and we’ve all experienced that unsettling feeling of our feet slipping out from under us. Black ice can be especially dangerous as it is often impossible to even see. Using de-icing salt to help melt dangerous patches of ice can help prevent slip and fall injuries, and using sand to increase traction may be the difference between keeping your balance and slipping.
  2. Know your limits. Often times, people of every age THINK they’re capable of tasks that they probably shouldn’t be attempting. Knowing your limits is important to avoid injury, so make sure you’re realistic about how much you can shovel, whether or not you should be walking down the icy driveway, or attempting to carry a heavy bag of sand or salt.
  3. Plan ahead. The best way to avoid a situation where you need to leave your house during inclement weather is to plan ahead and make sure you’re prepared. Make sure to watch the weather forecast, and if there’s even a chance of snow, stock up on necessities beforehand to ensure you have everything you need within your house. Eliminating the need to leave your home significantly reduces the possibility of a fall.
  4. Be careful what gets tracked in. Snow always seems to make its way into our homes no matter how hard we try to keep it out. Whether it gets stuck on the bottom of our shoes, our coats, or on a recently used shovel, it’s easy to track snow inside. It creates a mess, but it can also be dangerous. Inside a warm home, snow melts in a matter of minutes, creating puddles and slippery surfaces. Do your best to ensure that a minimal amount of snow is tracked into your home, and make sure to be on the lookout for water once it melts.
  5. Snow and ice aren’t the only enemies. While snow and ice can pose a danger, other surfaces can create hazards as well. Wet leaves for instance, can be equally slippery and often appear once the initial snow and ice have melted. It is important to always be aware of your surroundings and actively be on the watch to avoid possible risks.

While falls are serious and potentially devastating, they are very preventable. Taking the right steps to stay safe is important at any age, and the more aware we are of the dangers, the more we can do to avoid them. Use your best judgement, and enjoy the beauty of the season.

Richard T. Moore is the President of the Massachusetts Assisted Living Association.  He is a former Senate Healthcare Financing Chair who sponsored legislation to establish the Massachusetts Falls Prevention Commission at the Department of Public Health.

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