Tips for Preventing Falls This Winter

Slip Fall Stairs

Experienced Alaskans know what's coming … and while we can't stop from slipping into winter, we can help stop ourselves from slipping and falling onto the cold, hard ground.

Slip/fall accidents are among the most common source of injuries especially for older residents of the North. It seems everyone has a wintertime story of spraining an elbow, dislocating a shoulder, fracturing a hip or just sticking the landing -- rear-end first, with almost everything but our dignity intact!

A 2019 report on injuries in Alaska commissioned by Alaska Department of Health and Social Services ranks slips/falls as the top cause of serious injuries and a leading cause of death among Alaskans 55 and older. Falls injure senior women more often than senior men in Alaska, and seniors with diabetes, arthritis, memory loss or confusion are also more likely to fall and hurt themselves.

So, what can you do to prevent an outdoor fall? The first step is to reduce hazards.

  • If you live in a complex, immediately bring all problem areas to maintenance’s attention.
  • If you live alone and are physically able, shovel or sweep snow and ice from sidewalks or walkways, and scatter sand, gravel or kitty litter on top to provide extra traction. Ask your family or neighbor for help and consider whether to post a request on social media with people you trust.
  • A good pair of warm shoes or boots with aggressive tread is essential gear. Most shoe stores and/or big-box stores sell cleats mounted on rubber bindings that slip over your regular shoes. Some shoe stores will install screws in the soles of a sturdy pair of shoes for a few dollars. Shoe-studding is free for those 60 and older at Anchorage's Skinny Raven.
  • When navigating stairs, take a tip from North Slope safety experts and maintain three points of contact – hands or feet – at all times. When walking, consider using a cane, walking poles, or walker with appropriate rubber or spike ends.
  • Invite a friend along on your walk.
  • If walking a dog or other pet on a leash, remember that their four legs get better traction than your two and in a tug of war on ice, you may lose.

Home is where the heart is but home may also hide hazards.

  • Good lighting, solid handrails and floors free from throw rugs or other trip hazards are important.
  • Ask children or their parents to keep toys out of hallways, walkways and stairs.
  • Avoid the extra-high risk of falling in the bathroom by installing sturdy handles in the shower or by the commode or install a plastic chair and handheld showerhead in the tub for extra confidence.

Consider your health.

  • It's easy to trip over obstacles you can't see, so make sure your eyeglass prescription is up-to-date.
  • If remembering to take regular medication is a challenge, ask family members or your doctor to help you with organization that may include a chart, spreadsheet, daily pillbox, or mediset pre-loaded with a week's worth of medication
  • If you find yourself hanging on to furniture or walls while walking, that may be a sign of general muscle weakness or other condition. Keep up with medical checkups, treatment, and therapy and stay in touch with your doctor. Many medical providers are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic by video or telephone. Call and ask them how to keep current with virtual examinations, diagnosis or prescriptions.
  •  Exercise when you can to keep your body in good shape for getting around.

Find more info and helpful tips from National Council on Aging, Centers for Disease Control, and our AHFC Senior Housing Office that has been around for 30 years to provide information about available housing for seniors and funding sources to help keep Elders living safely at home for as long as possible.

Living in Alaska can be wonderfully rewarding but sourdoughs and chechakos alike must face challenges, including the risk of slipping and falling. By taking some careful, common-sense steps – literally! – you can keep marching along the trail in safety, health, comfort and happiness.