When Punxsutawney Phil recently predicted another long winter for 2015, the majority of Americans who have been struggling with record amounts of snow and low temperatures braced themselves. Winter is hard on everyone, not just those over a certain age; it can be socially isolating, physically back-breaking and emotionally draining.
But for those folks who are over the age of 55, winter can be flat-out dangerous. With ice on sidewalks and roads, falling hazards increase with every step taken outside of the house. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 95 percent of hip fractures occur because of falls, which "often result in long-term functional impairment, nursing home admission and increased mortality."
While it's not very practical to stay in the house until the seasons change, there are still ways to navigate the dangers of cold weather to try and avoid falls. Dr. Adam Bitterman, a New York-based Orthopedic Surgeon, has seen his fair share of broken bones as a result of taking a fall. "Roughly one-third of adults will have a slip and fall," says Dr. Bitterman. "Which leads to these fractures. What many don't realize is that most of them are preventable with correct shoe wear."
Dr. Bitterman helped us put together a list of cold weather tips that can aid in fall prevention -- and hip fractures! -- over the coming weeks:
- Wear the Right Shoes. Proper footwear is essential for navigating dangerous sidewalks and streets, which are often covered with ice and snow this time of year. Dr. Bitterman suggests that shoes with a thick rubber sole are ideal: "They provide a solid surface, which aids in traction while trekking along more slippery surfaces. Be sure to avoid leather bottoms that provide no additional traction benefit."
- Invest in A Medical Alert Device. The technology behind medical alert devices has come a long way in the past few decades. If you are still pretty active, you should consider investing in a mobile alert system that can be with you both inside and outside of the house, so that you have access to help no matter where and accident might occur. It can provide you with peace of mind and, in certain instances, literally save your life.
- All Hands on Deck. While it might be second nature to walk with your hands in your pockets when cold weather strikes, it's best to keep them free at all times while you are outside. They could end up protecting you from a harmful fall. While you would, perhaps, run the risk of breaking a wrist or an arm if you fall, the recovery time for that type of break is nothing compared to a broken hip. "Certainly, wrist fractures and other breaks to the upper extremities can be difficult to manage if they affect one's dominant arm," says Dr. Bitterman. "Their systemic effects are not nearly as great as those from a hip fracture. Isolated breaks to the arms and wrist have a faster recovery and generally may not require additional assistance during the rehabilitation phase."
- Pay Attention. This is an important one, which people of all ages often ignore. Look down at your feet while you are walking to ensure that you can safely navigate around icy patches on sidewalks. Don't distract yourself by talking on the phone, or even talking to someone you might be out with, because that can take you out of the zone of watching where you are going. This is an excellent all-weather tip, as it's easy to take a fall while distracted any time of year, in any climate.
- Pick Your Feet Up. Shuffling your feet as you walk plays a big role in whether or not you might stumble. This is also an all-weather tip, as shuffling your feet, whether on snow or uneven pavement, can be a recipe for disaster. If you feel as though you might have trouble picking your feet up off the ground when you walk, it might be time to have a more in-depth chat with your physician.
Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, these tips can really aid in fall prevention, no matter what the weather report is calling for. It can be difficult to accept that it's time for you to make these small changes to your life, but aging proactively can be much more rewarding than aging reactively.
Many thanks to Adam Bitterman, DO, who served as a contributor to this article.