Avoiding Falls During Winter Weather
Icy, snow-covered sidewalks, stairs and walkways can make a simple trip out to the car or to get the mail a potentially dangerous event, especially for seniors.
Using caution during winter weather conditions is not something to be taken lightly. For example, more than 30 people age 60 or over have sought treatment for head injuries and/or broken hips at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital during the most recent icy cold snap so far.
Eight Henry Ford Macomb Hospital patients broke hips in early January due to a fall. Head injuries plagued 18 patients who fell. Five others broke arms or another bone. Just from early to mid-January, the number of people injured from falls and treated at the hospital increased 50 percent, according to Henry Ford Macomb Hospital’s Trauma Services.
National studies have shown that’s a tip of the iceberg: more than one out of four older people falls each year, but less than half tell their doctor, particularly if they’re not seriously injured.
“There has been a significant increase in the number of elderly patients falling,” said Chris McEachin, who is the manager of the trauma program at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital. “The best way to avoid a fall in this kind of weather is to stay inside until walkways are clear and dry.”
Weaker bones, physical limitations and medications, such as blood thinners, can make matters worse, said Jonathan Beaulac, D.O., who specializes in geriatrics at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital. Hip fractures are most commonly caused by people falling sideways. But patients fall every which way – backwards, sideways and forward – depending on the activity they’re doing or movement they’re making when they fall. The outcome is the same: closed head injuries and fractured hips.
Related Topic: Winter Wellness Checklist
Tips for Avoiding Falls
If you must go out, Dr. Beaulac offers the following advice for seniors on how to avoid falls:
- Walk like a duck. Take small, slow steps with your feet pointed outward and weight evenly distributed. A wider gait creates more stability.
- Use any assistive devices (walkers, canes) that have been prescribed.
- Walk with someone. Hold the arm of a friend or family member.
- Take it slow and pay attention. Many falls are triggered by rushing or being distracted. Slick surfaces make that even worse.
- Ask for help. If you have problems with mobility, be sure to ask for assistance, especially with chores like shoveling snow.
“Fall injuries can be more severe and harder to recover from as we age because of frail bones and weakened muscles,” said Dr. Beaulac. “Head injuries can also have more serious consequences for elderly patients. It’s worth it to take extra precautions, or avoiding going out until getting around is safer.”
In the case of a fall, be sure to seek medical care as soon as possible. (In an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest ER.) Not sure where to go? Visit henryford.com/sameday for answers.
Dr. Jonathan Beaulac is the Medical Director for Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital and sees patients at Henry Ford Macomb Primary and Specialty Care in Sterling Heights.