Elderly Fall Prevention in Winter: Tips on Making Retirement Living Safer for Seniors
Published on November 20, 2020
Winter is one of the most precarious seasons for the elderly population in Canada. Frigid temperatures, the lack of sunshine, and reduced outdoor time is enough to make anyone long for the warm, sunny days of summer.
Add to that the ongoing pandemic, which has been forcing most of us to stay indoors since early March, and most seniors are really feeling the winter blues this year.
Even before the pandemic, though, the fear and possibility of suffering a slip and fall injury has always been very real for seniors. Fall prevention measures for the elderly are especially important in the winter to ensure their safety and well-being.
A Significant Number of Seniors Experience Falls in the Winter
As people get older, their gait patterns (the pattern or motion of walking in which the knee joints and muscles propel the lower leg and foot forward to establish steady movement) changes. Many seniors start to develop what’s known as an abnormal gait pattern, which can be caused by muscle weakness and can lead to instability. People of advanced ages often rely on gait stabilizers such as walkers or canes to help retain their balance while they walk.
Winter climates and weather conditions make it extremely challenging for elderly people to enjoy time outside. The risk of falling due to slippery conditions and their reduced mobility can make it especially difficult. It’s estimated that about 20% to 30% of Canadian seniors suffer a fall-related injury or hospitalization every year. The majority of these injuries happen in the winter.
The Risk of Seniors Falling Is a Lot Higher in the Winter
Slip and falls due to snow and icy conditions increase in the winter. Seniors may have a hard time treading through snow if they have mobility issues, slow reaction times, and weak limbs. Sometimes, the colder temperatures can also make seniors feel disoriented. Disorientation can cause seniors to easily lose their balance and fall, suffering an injury.
Snow and ice also reduce underfoot traction, which makes it difficult for all pedestrians—particularly seniors—to make effective recoveries and prevent injury if they do slip. Snow and ice also create barriers to building entryways, crosswalks, sidewalks, and pathways that are often used by seniors and other pedestrians. To make matters worse, people often walk faster to get out of the cold as quickly as possible. Fast walking, combined with inclement weather conditions and frozen precipitation on the ground, increase the chances of a slip and fall injury. Most walkers and canes aren’t slip resistant and can actually increase the risk of falling when they come into contact with slick concrete pavement.
Another factor to consider is poor building or residential vestibule maintenance. People often drag in sludge or bits of snow and ice when they’re entering a building. That sludge, snow, and ice eventually melts, making for some very slippery conditions if proper precautions aren’t taken.
Factors That Increase the Risk of Winter Falls in Seniors
Muscle weakness and reduced physical activity
Loss of sensation in the feet
Medication side effects
Unsteady gait patterns
Imbalance caused by bulky winter apparel
Poor diet and vitamin D deficiency (can cause weakness)
Tips for Senior Fall Prevention in Winter
Purchase Good Quality Winter Footwear
Even in the best of times, senior living requires sticking to a strict monthly budget. But one area in which seniors shouldn’t skimp is winter apparel—especially footwear. It’s important to invest in good quality footwear that has excellent traction to help prevent slip and fall accidents even in the snowiest and iciest conditions.
Use Grippers when Walking on Snow or Ice
If you can’t get your hands on a good pair of winter boots that provide rough traction, then you can use grippers instead. Grippers are a nifty device that can be attached to virtually any make, make, model and size of winter boot to provide extra grip and prevent slip and falls.
Walk with a Friend, Family Member, or Caregiver
When it comes to their well-being, seniors should never be afraid to ask for some assistance. Walking is a great form of exercise that can maintain good health and energy. Even a short walk around the block once a day can make a big difference. Walking with a friend, family member, or caregiver, ensures that there’s always someone around to provide companionship and help in case of an emergency.
Maintain Good Bone Health
Frigid winter temperatures are especially tough on weak arthritic bones. Maintaining good bone health is important during any time of year, but especially in the winter. That’s why it’s important to eat a healthy calcium-rich and nutrient-dense diet complete with green veggies and dairy. If certain food items don’t sit well with you, then you should talk to your healthcare practitioner about taking certain supplements.
Focus on Strengthening Muscle and Improving Balance
Light exercises like Thai Chi, hatha yoga, leg raises, and toe raises can help stretch and strengthen muscles while also improving your balance. Increased strength and balance not only improve your reaction times, but also help prevent the risk of falling.
Take It Slow and Steady
One of the great aspects of retirement living is that it allows seniors to take things at their own pace—and that includes going for leisurely walks. If you have errands to run, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go. Avoid carrying heavy items while walking in the snow as they can weigh you down and increase the chance of falling.
V!VA Retirement Communities’ Fall Prevention for Seniors Living in the GTA
At V!VA Retirement Communities, our team is completely committed to ensuring the health, safety, and overall quality of life of our Community Members across the GTA. We provide a variety of health and fitness programs to keep our Community Members active and moving to the best of their abilities. Contact us today to book a tour of one of our locations in the GTA.