Ask Dr. Dylan: How to prevent falls

The risks and preventing slipping and falling

Dr. Dylan Wyatt says it is important to focus on how you are walking during the winter.

Dr. Dylan Wyatt, an emergency medicine physician at the St. Luke’s, explains how to prevent slipping and falling, especially during the winter months.

Dr. Dylan: Falls can occur any time of the year, but falls outdoors are much more common in the wintertime. Unfortunately, we see a significant uptick in ER visits for broken bones due to falls during the wintertime months, especially in those who are older or have chronic medical conditions. It’s a good time to talk about falls and the ways to prevent them. Many of the things that I am going to say today may seem like common sense, but I bet if you pay attention you’ll find you don’t always follow all of the best practices.

In the wintertime, ice and snow make it easier to lose our footing when outside. You can help mitigate this somewhat by wearing a good pair of lightweight boots with good support and strong traction. Snow grips or cleats that attach to the bottom of the shoe also work, just be sure they are well connected to the sole. Whenever you are outside, take your time and don’t rush – keep an eye out for slippery areas and take small steps (almost side-to-side) which helps maintain your center of gravity. It sounds silly, but take an example from everyone’s favorite cold-weather bird the penguin while walking – their waddle helps keep them centered.

Falls can also occur inside the home at any time of year. The same principles we spoke of before still apply: take your time, and keep your center of gravity (though you don’t need to waddle like a penguin indoors if you don’t want to). Inside the home, certain objects such as rugs or table legs pose a tripping hazard, especially for individuals with mobility issues. Pets can pose a risk as they dart underfoot and loose slippers can slide off the feet. Bring in family or friends to take a look at where you live and see if they see anything risky.

One last thing I want to mention is on mobility assistance devices, like canes and walkers. I hear from so many patients (and even some of my own family) that mobility assistance devices make them feel like they are losing their independence or like they are being restricted. I absolutely empathize with this, but still encourage their use as needed. The way I see it, if you are more stable using the devices, you will be more mobile while using them. The increased mobility can keep you active and will increase your ability to move in the long run.