Expert offers eight tips to help avert winter slips and falls

We all followed the "spring forward" adage as daylight savings time began but due to icy, wintery conditions, many have continued to "spring forward" due to tumbles on the ice.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 20,000 people die annually due to fall-related injuries.

Additionally, falls account for approximately 15 percent of job-site accidents, adding up to almost 15 percent of all workers' compensation costs.

"Many falls can be successfully avoided or the impact minimized by applying a few basic strategies," said Mike Ross, author of "The Balance Manual" and exercise physiologist at Gottlieb Center for Fitness, part of Loyola University Health System.

Ross teaches balance classes year-round at Gottlieb, primarily to those ages 50 and older. Some bodily changes as one grows older are unavoidable and may affect personal safety. "Balance deteriorates as we get older due to the weakening of muscles and change in sensory perception, especially in the ear structure," he said. Equilibrium, or balance, is largely determined by the inner ear and the brain.

"As we age, our eardrums often thicken and the bones of the middle ear and other structures are affected. It often becomes increasingly difficult to maintain balance," he said.

"Aging also breaks down cells in the nervous system, which can often result in a delay in reflexes that can lead to susceptibility to injury," he said.

Ross focuses on preventing injury by being proactive and taking control. Here are Ross' recommendations on how to navigate the rest of winter and to cross over safely to spring:

Ross's Eight Tips to Help Avert Winter Slips and Falls

• Check your footwear. "Examine your shoes and boots. How's the traction? Is it time for a new pair? Better traction can help keep you more stable on icy surfaces."

• Keep a shovel and salt in your house. "The reason you have a shovel and salt is so you don't have to walk on a slippery sidewalk. Having them in the garage defeats the purpose."

• Check the railings. "If you have railings leading up to your front door, check to see if they're sturdy. If you slipped, would they support you?"

• Bring a cell phone when you leave the house. "If you fall, it can sometimes be hard to get up. Carrying a cell phone whenever you go out can bring peace of mind."

• Slow down. Allow extra time if it's slippery out. "It's when you hurry that you end up pushing the limits of your sense of balance. Also, keep in mind that being a little late is better than rushing and causing a fall."

• Ask for help. "If you have to walk across an icy sidewalk or parking lot, try to find a steady arm to lean on. Most people are happy to help an older person navigate a slippery walkway and you just have to ask."

• Have a plan. "When you are going out, ask yourself, 'If I slipped and fell here, what would I do?'"

• Strengthen your legs. "Strong leg muscles can help you steady yourself if you slip.
And if you do fall, they make it a lot easier to get back up. You should exercise your legs regularly to keep them strong. Try walking up and down your stairs repeatedly or do a set of 10 squats out of a chair a couple of times per week."

Ross says that if you do find yourself walking on a slippery surface, make like a penguin. Small, shuffling steps can prevent falling. Ross also recommends keeping your hands to your sides. "Putting your hands out to break your fall will also likely break or sprain your limbs," he says. "Try and land on a broad, padded area of your body such as your bottom," he says.


Loyola University Health System

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