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Preventing falls amongst older people this winter

26th November 2019

Winter is a fantastic time of year; with celebrations such as Christmas and the New Year to look forward to, it’s the perfect excuse to spend time with those closest to you. As the temperature begins to drop and the nights grow longer, the world outside your window may begin to transform into a beautiful winter wonderland. However, for those with low mobility, the magical landscape can become a nightmare.

During the colder months, the chance of falls can increase and, for those who are unsteady on their feet or lack confidence in their balance, it can be quite scary. Falls in older adults can be debilitating and for those who may have taken a tumble, this can lead to anxiety, something which is particularly prevalent in those who rely on stair lifts to aid them up and down stairs.

“If you do fall, it’s important that you can get help quickly, particularly if you live alone or there isn’t anyone with you”, shares John from PPP Taking Care Personal Alarms. “Hypothermia is a real risk if you fall on a cold night and can’t get back on your feet. A personal alarm provides a way to call for help in an emergency, 24 hours a day, even if you unable to speak or move. The alarm monitoring centre will answer the call, know who you are and where you live. They will coordinate a response from the emergency services and let your family know what has happened.”

Feeling anxious is never a nice feeling. If you’ve injured yourself from slipping over, the worry that it might happen again can escalate, sometimes so severely that it results in fear of leaving your house at all. However, the best way to combat these feelings of worry is to head back outside and prove yourself wrong.

When the weather outside begins to transform, a couple of small changes and a little planning can help minimise the likelihood of slips and falls. Take a look at our helpful tips and tricks below to help prevent falls this winter.

 

Preventing falls this winter

Clear paths of debris

Keeping paths clear of obstacles is important throughout the year to minimise the possibility of falls. However, it is especially important in the winter months when paths could be icy. Slippery leaves and other debris can make the surface slippery underfoot, so you should start the process of ensuring that the path is clear at the end of the summer, using an outdoor brush to move anything that obstructs your path. A regular sweep of this area will be easier to stay on top of and is something that even those with low mobility will be able to do.

If you have a garden path that leads to your front door, cutting back any branches will give you a little bit of extra space. It’s important to keep on top of this year-round, as low branches or brambles can easily trip people up but doing this in winter will give you peace of mind that there are no trip hazards hidden beneath the snow.

Nancy Farmer, a physiotherapist at ElWell offered this advice to take into consideration this winter: “Your home is your haven, but there could be trip hazards there. Making simple changes could be the difference between falling or not. Take a look around your rooms (it could be an idea to do this with a carer, friend or family member who can help you look impartially) and see if you can identify anything that could cause a fall. For example, is there clutter on the floor? Are the corners of the rugs up? Any loose wires? You may also want to think about adding some mobility aids too. A rail on the stairs can make you feel more confident going up and down, adding a bed guard could stop you falling out when asleep or a bath handrail could make you less likely to slip.

“Falling over can be scary but try not to panic. Check for injuries, call for help or use your pendant alarm if you have one. If you’re unable to get up, then try and make yourself comfortable on the floor – is there a cushion or blanket within crawling reach? If you can get up, then do it slowly and in a stepped approach.

1. Roll onto all fours

2. Crawl to a stable chair and use this for support when pulling yourself up

3. To do this, bring one of your legs (ideally the stronger if you have one) to a 90-degree angle. Push through your leg and follow through with your arms until you are up and able to turn to sit on the chair

If you have fallen and the cause isn't obvious, it’s a good idea to seek medical advice and they may be able to refer you to a falls clinic to assess further why you have fallen.”

In the winter it can be necessary to treat the surface of the path for better traction. If you live in a cold area that often experiences ice, keep the main thoroughfares gritted or salted to avoid slips. If you live in an area that receives snowfall, invest in equipment that is comfortable to use to help you clear snow. It is also worth stocking up on non-perishable goods just in case the weather prevents you from going out for a couple of days.

Footwear

Wearing the correct shoes can go a long way in helping people keep their balance. Well-fitting shoes with no extra room may not be the most comfortable for those who suffer from swollen joints or bunions; however, if the foot moves too much in the shoe it can offset a person’s gait. Invest in a pair of waterproof shoes that support the ankle for short journeys in winter months.

The sole of the shoe is important in the winter as it needs to maintain traction on possibly slippery surfaces. Opt for a shoe with a raised pattern and rubber sole to help maintain grip and reduce the wear so they will be useful for more than one winter. 

Prepare mobility aids

Not every mobility scooter user will need to purchase snow tyres to keep you safe this winter, an all-terrain option is great for those who travel long distances using their aid. These scooters have sturdier tyres than your standard option, allowing the scooter to withstand water, snow and sleet.

Whilst there may be no need to have a specialist scooter for winter, there are some ways you can prepare your mobility aids for the colder months. Wheelchair accessories such as the FreeWheel attach to the front of the chair, assisting you on difficult terrain by making you more stable and rain canopies can be a great investment for those times when the weather is less than desirable.

Over the course of the year, the rubber tip of canes and frames can become damaged so replacing these are important. Also, consider investing in ice pick attachments for canes and frames. These small spiked devices will help on slippery surfaces.

Install grab handles

If you have stairs on the way out of your property, these can be a real hazard, especially in cold and wet weather. To overcome this, install grab handles wherever possible. The addition of these to one – or both – sides of your stairs can be a massive help, making you feel more stable on your feet.

Kathy from the blog When They Get Older shared this helpful tip for those who are worried about slips and trips this winter: “It’s often that last little step up or down that causes the problems. So, I would recommend putting up grab rails around the house – in the shower, at the top of the stairs, and on any outdoor steps.

“Stuff on the floor can be a major trip hazard too. It’s easy to leave things lying around if you’re planning to use them again later or just don’t want to put them away immediately. If you put some nice baskets in strategic places, like in the hallway or next to the sofa, then anything from the knitting to coat hangers can be dropped in there and dealt with later.”

If you already have grab handles, it’s best to check that they are in good, working order and that they can support your weight. Doing this as soon as the cold weather starts allows you time to have some new handles properly fitted which should make you feel happier when leaving your home.

Keep hands free

Keeping hands out of pockets not only allows people to make use of rails, but also to regain balance if they feel unsteady. This does not mean that people should have cold hands. Instead, invest in a pair of warm and well-fitting gloves that have grip dots on the palms and fingers. The extra texture helps you hold on to surfaces that might be icy or wet while your hands remain warm and dry.

Arrange a check-up

Low light in the winter can contribute to the hazards you encounter when you are out and about which is why it is important to make sure you have had a recent eye check and your prescription is up to date.

Your hearing and inner ear could also affect your balance. It is best to arrange a check-up at the doctor to ensure any problems are fixed ahead of the time so your experience this winter is not adversely affected. It is also important that in low light levels, your other senses are in top condition to help alert you to other dangers, such as unseen cars when crossing a road. 

Exercise at home

You can improve your balance with simple exercises at home. Whether you want to improve your stability or strength, there are a couple of simple poses that will help you keep your body in good condition. Practising your balance at home is a great way to improve it and Elder Gym has a range of exercises they suggest trying out. 

How to prevent falls this winter

Care Campaign for Vulnerable who shared these quick tips to help keep you on your feet over the upcoming season:

“Falls can have a huge negative and long-term effect on the health of an elderly person and should be avoided. Changes you can make to your home to avoid falls:

“1. Clear up clutter. Put away hoovers and anything you may leave lying about.

2. If possible, install grab bars/hand rails up where you can.

3. Avoid wearing loose clothing that you can easily trip over.

4. Have good lighting in each room.

5. Try and live on one level.”

Care Campaign for the Vulnerable advise taking advice from the NHS website if you should suffer a fall or a loved one.

“If you have a fall, it's important to keep calm. If you're not hurt and you feel strong enough to get up, don't get up quickly. Roll on to your hands and knees and look for a stable piece of furniture, such as a chair or bed. If you're hurt or unable to get up, try to get someone's attention by calling out for help, banging on the wall or floor, or using your aid call button (if you have one). If possible, crawl to a telephone and dial 999 to ask for an ambulance.

“Try to reach something warm, such as a blanket or dressing gown, to put over you, particularly your legs and feet. Stay as comfortable as possible and try to change your position at least once every half an hour or so.”

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.