Take steps to stop falls inside, out
It’s that time of year again when safety-conscious organizations issue cautionary tales about preventing falls and, failing that, protecting against serious injury when suddenly descending unintentionally from the vertical.
Even if you think you already know everything you need to know about falling, you’d be wise to read on. Many of us can use a periodic kick in the pants to help keep us safe. I know, because I’m one of those prone to doing something foolhardy even while thinking how dumb it is.
In much of the country, fall injuries rise during the winter months when walkways become slippery and trip hazards are obscured by snow, ice or, in some areas, by leaves. Senior citizens, being less agile and more fragile, are especially at risk. A map of fatal falls in the United States, published in April in the AARP Bulletin, provides graphic testimony: Wisconsin and Minnesota, two of our coldest states, led the nation in deaths from falls among residents 65 and older.
Here are a couple of steps you can take to avoid slips, trips and falls outdoors when sidewalks can sometimes resemble hockey rinks.
Step 1: Check your footwear. Shoes and boots should have slip-resistant soles (rubber or neoprene, not plastic or leather). Or equip them with external traction cleats, sold under brand names like Yaktrax.
Step 2: Take smaller steps, bend forward slightly, go slow and walk as flatfooted as possible when it’s icy or snowy. Check the steps and sidewalk for black ice before going out in the morning, even if only to pick up the paper or mail. Do likewise when stepping out of a vehicle. Although the air temperature may be above freezing, dew or fog can freeze on a colder surface.
Regardless of the season, scan the path 6 or more feet ahead of you for trip hazards. Avoid carrying items that block your ability to see the ground in front of you.
Now for the most common place for falls: your home. Most dwellings contain a catalog of trip hazards, including piles of papers, loose carpets or floorboards, extension cords and clothing carelessly dropped on the floor, not to mention water or grease on the kitchen or bathroom floor. Remove as many of these as possible and wipe up all spills as soon as they happen.
While important at any age, these precautions are critical for the elderly. Falls are the No. 1 cause of injury to seniors, 1 in 3 of whom can expect to fall each year. Too often the result is a debilitating fracture, loss of independence or death. Nearly three times as many people die after falling (some 32,000 a year) than are killed by guns in the United States. Even when the injury from a fall is minor, it can create fear that prompts people to avoid certain activities lest they fall again.
And when walking indoors, always wear shoes or slippers with nonskid soles.