Protecting Yourself from Winter Falls | Fall Prevention for Elderly

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Winter can be a beautiful time of the year. But for elders with unsteady balance, winter can also be a dangerous time to go outdoors. According to the National Safety Council, slips and falls on snow and ice are a leading cause of emergency room visits. To avoid winter time falls elders should take certain precautions.

Modify the way you walk
Falls on ice occur from lack of stability and/or poor physical health. Avoid taking large strides or moving quickly; this can increase the likelihood of slipping on ice. Instead, when walking on slippery surfaces, walk more slowly. Take short, flat baby-steps with knees bent slightly and your body bent slightly forward. Keep the heels and toes of your shoes in contact with the ground as much as possible; this will help with traction and balance. When walking on outdoor steps, be sure to grip handrails firmly and plant your feet securely on each step.

Wear the correct shoes
Check your winter footwear. Do your shoes provide good traction on snow and icy surfaces? If not, it may be time for a new pair. Wearing boots with good treads offers better traction, which can help keep you stable on icy surfaces. Flat shoes with rubber (or neoprene) soles are more capable of gripping the ice than other types of shoes. Heavy, clunky winter boots may make walking more difficult. Instead try a pair of rain boots; typically they are lighter and have flatter soles.

Remove wet winter footwear when indoors. Tile or laminate entryways in the home can become quite wet and slippery when snow-packed shoes warm up and the snow melts. One way to avoid falls is by placing a mat by the front door and removing shoes when you enter. Wet shoes on dry surfaces are just as dangerous as dry shoes on wet surfaces.

Pay attention to walkways
Keep on top of falling snow and slippery walkways. Use a combination of snowmelt and sand to keep sidewalks clear. Keep a shovel and salt in your house when it snows (rather than the garage); so that they are available to help clear your porch, steps and sidewalk. Check your step and walkway railings. Are they sturdy and capable of supporting you if you slip?

Stay safe when going outdoors

  • Do light stretching before going outside. Keeping flexible helps maintain good balance and makes you physically more able to prevent a fall.
  • Snow can hide ice and other fall hazards. If you can’t see where your foot will land, find another way. Avoid slippery surfaces by only walking on paths that have been cleared of snow and ice. Carry a small bag of salt or kitty litter to sprinkle on slippery sidewalks to increase traction.
  • Avoid carrying heavy bags that can disrupt balance and contribute to falls. Try to travel light or use a backpack (to evenly distribute weight and help you walk more easily).
  • Slow down, don’t rush and push the limits of your balance. Allow extra time if it’s slippery out. If you do have to walk on icy conditions, combat the risk of injuries (such as a hip fracture) by wearing a bulky coat that covers the hips to cushion a fall. Using ahip protector can also help to avoid any hip injuries.
  • Be aware of ‘black ice’ (thin sheets of ice that may appear as wet pavement), which can be hard to see. Stay on clean, clear pathways or ones that have been treated with sand or salt.
  • Bring a cell phone in case of an emergency; especially if going outside alone. If you fall, it may be hard to get up. Having a cell phone to call for assistance can bring peace of mind.
  • Dink water regularly. Dehydration can alter your balance.
  • Wear sunglasses to reduce glare from the sun and snow, which can affect your vision and increase the likelihood of falling.
  • Don’t’ be ashamed to ask for help (especially if you have a balance problem). If you have to walk across an icy sidewalk or parking lot, try to find a steady arm to lean on.

Stay active
Exercise regularly to keep your muscles, joints and bones strong. Strong leg muscles can help you steady yourself if you slip and lose your balance. And if you do fall, they make it a lot easier to get back up. A simple and effective exercise for strong legs is to walk up and down your stairs several times every day. Balancing exercises, such as standing on one leg at a time or standing on your toes, will also help. When you slip and fall, muscles tend to tighten; by working the leg muscles, you have a better chance of maintaining stability. There are a number of home-based strength exercises to help improve strength, balance and co-ordination. If you’re unable to participate in more strenuous activity, try low-impact exercises such as yoga, walking, and swimming.

Lastly, remember: A simple fall on ice that results in a broken hip can change ones whole life! The good news is that simple strategies can lower your risk of falls in winter.

This blog was originally posted on Dr. Rein’s blog on, Click Here to read this and other blogs from Dr. Rein. 

Was this blog helpful? Check out some of the fall prevention for elderly CE courses Dr. Reins has authored: Preventing Falls, Managing Falls In the Nursing Home: Who, Why and What Next?, Facts About Falls, The Fall Prevention Care Process. For our full course catalog click here.


Guest blogger:
Rein Tideiksaar, PhD, PA-C, or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to, is the president of Fall Prevent, LLC, Blackwood, New Jersey, a consulting company that provides educational, legal, and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist, which is a health care professional who specializes in working with elderly patients, and a geriatric physician’s assistant. He has been active in the area of fall prevention for over thirty years. He has directed numerous research projects on falls and has developed fall prevention programs in the community, assisted living, home care, acute care, and nursing facility settings. He has as authored several books devoted to the topic of fall prevention.