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Preventing Falls in winter

Health Unit warns of falls during icy conditions

SIMCOE, ON, FEB. 11, 2009 – With a thaw-freeze cycle now taking place, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is urging people to take extra precautions against falls.
“”Most people assume that falling on ice is only a problem for seniors, but falls are the leading type of injury reported in all age groups,” cautioned Registered Nurse Joanne Alessi, Injury Prevention Coordinator with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.

“Although seniors may suffer more serious consequences such as broken hips, fall injuries can sideline anyone for weeks on end because more than 64 per cent involve injuries to an upper or lower limb,” she pointed out. “Just ask people who have sustained this type of injury and they’ll tell you how much their daily activities were affected by something as simple as a broken wrist. It’s no picnic, that’s for sure.”

Rose Gass, manager of the Emergency Department at Norfolk General Hospital, says seniors may suffer more serious injuries from falling on ice due to weak bone and muscle structure.

“About one in every four women and one in every eight men over the age of 50 has osteoporosis,” Gass noted. “This disease causes the bones and muscles to become weaker, so seniors are more likely to fracture a bone and end up in the hospital if they fall on ice. People over the age of 50 should talk to a doctor about getting screened for osteoporosis and treated if they have the disease.”

The Health Unit offers several tips to help prevent falls:

  • Remove ice or snow from walkways.
  • Use salt regularly on icy surfaces.
  • If you are a senior, consider wearing hip protectors to prevent hip fractures if you fall.
  • Use a properly fitted cane or walker with an ice pick attached to the end. Be sure to flip the pick back when indoors or on hard, iceless surfaces, as the pick can slip, increasing the risk of falling.
  • Slow down on sidewalks with icy surfaces; keep your body loose, bend your knees and spread your feet to ensure a wide base. Walk slowly by placing your whole foot onto the ice surface at once.
  • Carry a small bag of kitty litter or salt when out walking in case you encounter an icy patch.
  • Wear light-weight boots with a thick, non-slip sole and a wide, low heel.
  • Consider using a pair of ice grippers over the boots for added traction.

“Ice grippers over boots are an amazing safety device proven to prevent falls,” Alessi said. “They can be purchased at many hardware stores for about $20. When placed over the boot or shoe, they act like a net with built-in cleats. However, ice grippers should be removed before walking on smooth surfaces in-doors.”

Media contact:
Joanne Alessi, RN, Injury Prevention Coordinator
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
905-318-5367 Ext. 322