Caring Currents

Prevent Winter Falls with These 6 Safety Tips

Last updated: Dec 22, 2009

The Shovel
Image by digital_image_fan used under the creative commons attribution license.

When you're caring for an older adult, falls are a constant fear. And we also know from hard experience that falling is an enormous risk for older adults. A fall -- especially if it results in a fracture -- can put in motion a chain of events and health issues that compromises an older person's ability to live independently and can even result in disability or death.

So here from the experts at are some of the best ways to prevent winter falls:

1. Choose footwear carefully. Because snow, ice, and rain-slicked pavement are slippery, traction is what you need. For traction, you need tread -- a surface with bumps and hollows. Think about basketball shoes, with plenty of tread to grip polished gym floors, or hiking boots with lugged soles for mud. Many "comfort" shoes, popular with seniors, have rubber soles but they're smooth - you need something with grooves where the water and ice can go.

2. If you have snow, shovel it -- carefully. Shoveling is hard work, but the alternative -- tripping and falling in loose snow -- is much worse. When shoveling, pay attention to leaving a level surface when you're done. Even out any bumps so there's nothing to trip over. Don't let the person you're caring for overdo it with the shoveling, though -- that's a perfect way to throw out your back. Pay a local teenager to do it instead. Or try a new device called the wovel -- a safety-oriented shovel on wheels. Keep the shovel or wovel where it's handy but where there's no danger of tripping over it. Inside a coat closet, for example, would be perfect.

3. If you have ice, use salt. Salt dissolves ice and leaves a gritty surface that's much easier to walk on. Keep a bag of salt right by the front door; if you or the person you care for has to walk to the shed or garage to get it, you've defeated your purpose.

4. Have plenty of railings and handholds available. Anyone who's frail or has balance problems should never try to walk on a slippery surface without something to hold onto. Make sure railings are sturdy and free of snow and ice or that there's someone there to offer an arm to hold onto.

5. Use modern technology. Hopefully the person you're caring for has a cell phone; make sure it's with him and turned on when he leaves the house. If the person you're caring for is living independently and has balance or mobility issues, consider a monitored safety alarm device that alerts a monitoring center when the person wearing it falls.

6. Allow extra time. When preparing to leave the house, give yourselves a few extra minutes so there's no rush. People who fall almost always remember afterwards that they were rushing or harried and not paying attention to safety.