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Living Well

You can prevent falls, slips and trips this winter

Last updated: Dec 15, 2015

At home and on our SMG campuses, safety is key

Whatever your age, the distinguishing characteristic of a fall is that it is unexpected: the step is higher than you thought; the surface more slippery than it looked; something was left in your path; your balance was not as secure as you imagined, the lighting was too dim; the dog or cat tripped you; your cane caught in an area rug or your medication made you dizzy, just to name a few.

Falls, which many think children handle well, are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for all children ages 0 to 19. Every day, approximately 8,000 children are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. That's about 2.9 million children according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Another 2.5 million people, one in three people over the age of 65, also end up in emergency rooms each year because of falls. While every fall results in a trip to the hospital, the National Council on Aging reports, "every 13 seconds an older adult is seen in the emergency department for a fall-related injury."

The good news is that with a little bit of planning, cooperation of family members and, for older adults, consultation with your health care provider, many falls can be prevented. Many of the same fall-prevention tips work for people of all ages.

  • BALANCE AND STRENGTH ARE KEY: Young or old, staying upright relies on having good balance. Very young children take classes to learn how to walk and jump. As they age, many continue to take part in sports or work out.  Older adults can register for an exercise program, swim or learn Tai Chi, which is excellent for improving balance.
  • CREATE A SAFE HOME: Remove tripping hazards, such as throw rugs, especially at the top of stairs. Make sure there are railings on both sides of stairways, which should be clear of toys and “stuff”. Lights should be plentiful and bright; pathways need to be clear for walking; electrical cords should be taped to the baseboard;" bath tubs and showers should have non-skid mats or strips on the floor; bedroom lights should be easy to reach from the bed and there should be night lights on the route to the bathroom.
  • VISION CHECKS FOR ALL: Have regular eye appointments to make sure changes in vision are caught as soon as possible. Have it checked regularly, older adults should have it checked annually.
  • TIPS TO KEEP CHILDREN SAFE: Wear protective equipment appropriate to the sport. Caregivers should only take children to playgrounds with well-maintained equipment installed on soft surfaces. Homes with small children should have stair gates, window guards on all windows above the first floor and guard rails on children’s beds.

Do some research on fall prevention and it is soon clear that the biggest concern is on how to prevent older adults from falling and significantly damaging their health and threatening their independence.

  • TIPS FOR OLDER ADULTS: Keep a phone near the floor, so it can be reached easily in the event of a fall. Medication can interfere with balance - review all medications with your doctor or pharmacist. Don't sit on couches or chairs that are too low. Don't stand up too quickly. Canes and walkers can be tangled in rugs - use them properly - if you don't know how, ask a medical professional for a lesson. Always wear shoes, not socks or slippers, even when inside.

Remember, preventing falls is a team effort. The CDC offers a checklist on its website to use when doing a risk-assessment of an older adult's home. "Most falls are caused by a combination of risk factors. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling," according to the CDC.

Older adults may find it challenging to make some of the recommended fall-prevention changes to their home. They can ask their children or a friend to help or hire someone, but sometimes the children need to step in and volunteer their help. In the end, if the changes are made, the more likely it is the older adults will be able to continue to live independently. 

Six tips for avoiding falls outdoors this winter

It may not seem like winter, but we have it on good authority that winter is coming.

That means freezing rain, snow and ice are on their way, all of which make slippery surfaces. Monica Roth RN,BSN,CPHRM, the Clinical Coordinator of Risk Management and Patient Safety at Summit Health Management, offers some fall-prevention tips to people visiting the various Summit Medical Group campuses.

  • Take advantage of free valet parking wherever possible. That eliminates walking through parking lots or on wet sidewalks, which can be a real challenge with a child or two in tow.
  • Store wet umbrellas in the umbrella bags, available at all entrances, to keep water off the floors, 
  • Wear footwear suitable for the weather; boots offer better traction than high heels.
  • Walk only on shoveled paths.
  • Pay attention to where you are walking. "Look up and down and, if it's dicey out there, look ahead of you and be in tune to what's under your feet," Roth said.
  • Report any situation such as spills or icy areas, that you think is dangerous to an employee. "If it looks like a hazard, bring it to someone's attention to be evaluated," Roth said.

Always remember, if you see something, say something. Together we can help “prevent the next event,” she concluded.