Lately as we look out of our windows, we see the beauty of winter: glistening trees covered in ice and a white blanket of snow covering what was once green. For Wisconsinites, this particular season (while often beautiful) can pose many fall hazards to older adults. Falls are the #1 cause of injury death among adults 65+ in Wisconsin and are one of the top reasons for calls to EMS. 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Below are some tips to stay upright this winter.
Braving the cold, wintry weather to run errands, visit family, or just to get out of the house without a cell phone on your body can be detrimental and even deadly if you happen to fall outside. Always have a cell phone on your body that is easy to reach in the event you fall or are stranded and need to call for help. Waiting for someone to find you in brutal winter weather can result in not only an injury due to do a fall, but also hypothermia or frostbite.
Winters in Wisconsin are long, and with shorter days comes decreased sun exposure which could impact one’s Vitamin D levels. Talk with your doctor about Vitamin D and whether or not a supplement could be beneficial to help maintain strong bones and aid in other potential positive health outcomes.
The combination of shorter days and staying indoors due to harsh weather could lead to depression in older adults. These two factors, on top of Covid-19, have made social interaction even more difficult for our older population. We know that social interaction is key to good health – we need each other! Finding ways to engage with friends, family, and neighbors despite the weather is important, though it’s important to do so safely. Many health and fitness programs for older adults are now available over the phone or online. This may include Tai Chi, Stepping On, Ballroom Basics for Balance, yoga, and many others! Connect with your local senior center or the Aging and Disability Resource Center (608-240-7400) to find out what might be available. Set up a standing telephone or video coffee date with a friend or loved one to help stay connected.
“Drink Wisconsinbly” may be a funny tag line for a t-shirt or coffee mug, but it’s also a very real problem in our state and can lead to health issues or injuries, such as a fall. As our bodies age, we metabolize alcohol more slowly. And as older adults often take supplements and prescription medications, alcohol often does not interact favorably. Please talk with your doctor about safe alcohol consumption, and be mindful of alcohol intake, especially on those long winter nights that might be exacerbated by feelings of depression.
And be mindful of bringing potential winter hazards into your home! Health care providers recommend taking shoes off when entering your house because snow and ice might be tracked inside the house, thaw, thus creating very slippery patches of water on the floor. This can be another fall hazard.
As you’re gazing at the lovely winter scene outside, take a moment to go through a mental checklist of ways to stay safe: use yak trax or other grip devices on shoes, use a winterized cane tip, ensure sideways and driveways are clear of ice and snow, never leave home without your cell phone, keep kitty litter in your car to provide better traction on ice when getting out of the car in parking lots, institute a check-in system with a loved one or neighbor, and keep your body moving so muscles stay strong! And remember, winter will once again segue into spring.
Contact Ashley Hillman at Safe Communities for information about falls prevention activities in Dane County (608-235-1957).