10 tips to prevent winter falls

January 10, 2013

Preventing falls is important — especially in winter weather — but seniors shouldn’t let a fear of falling keep them from being active. Getting together with friends, walking or going to the local senior center helps older individuals stay healthy. Nicoleta Bugnariu, PhD, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy, and Rita Patterson, PhD, Professor of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, both on faculty at the UNT Health Science Center, offer these tips to prevent a fall in icy weather:

  1. Be cautious walking on sidewalks and in public places, and entering or exiting your car, especially if it’s covered with ice or snow. Even when surfaces do not look especially icy or slippery, a thin sheet of transparent ice can put you at risk for slipping.
  2. Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes or boots outside. Wear flat shoes with slip-resistant soles or rain/snow boots that provide traction. 
  3. Concentrate on your path.  Walk with your knees slightly bent, feet widely apart, arms held out to your sides and take slow, short, flat steps. The heels and soles of your shoes should stay in contact with the ground as long as possible, providing you with maximum surface contact.  Don’t carry heavy items, and grip a handrail if possible.
  4. Use sidewalks whenever possible. If there is no sidewalk and the street is clear, walk against the flow of traffic, and stay close to the curb. Don’t walk in the streets! Remember, cars and trucks slip and slide, too!  If you can’t avoid the street, wear bright or reflective clothing. 
  5. Wear clothing that does not restrict your vision. Stay warm, but don’t restrict your vision with hoodies, ski masks, scarves, hats, etc.
  6. Ice can hide under a light dusting of snow. Just because you don’t see the ice doesn’t mean it’s not there. 
  7. Be aware of overhead hazards! Falling icicles and chunks of ice kill hundreds of people each year. Icicles can grow quickly. Their size and dagger-like formation are extremely dangerous for pedestrians.
  8. Remove your shoes or boots once you get inside. Snow and ice often stick to the soles of shoes and will melt almost immediately as your shoes begin to warm up. The result is a slippery surface and the risk of a fall.
  9. If you feel yourself falling backward, tuck in your chin to protect your head as much as possible and try to roll with the fall. If you feel yourself falling forward, avoid the urge to use your arms to break your fall-you may do more harm to your body than good.
  10. If you fall, try to land on a part of your body with more padding, such as your buttocks.
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