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“You Better Watch Out” for the Slippery Winter”

Public Health Community Advisory
“You Better Watch Out” for the Slippery Winter
by Joseph Ka-Chun Siu, PT, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health

Winter is a wonderful time of the year, bringing, among other things, holiday celebrations. However it also brings snow, sleet, and ice, which can make sidewalks and pathways slippery. According to the National Safety Council (1), in 2007 in the United States, about 21,000 people died from falls, and 7.9 million were injured as a result of falls. Falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in Nebraska (2).

Fall accidents are more likely to occur in the winter due to increased chances of slips, trips, and falls on slippery surfaces after winter precipitation. Although you cannot prevent snow from falling or ice from freezing on the sidewalk, there are things you can do to better prepare for slippery conditions. Here are some “ABC tips” to prevent falls in the winter:

  • Arm free: Try to leave an arm free so that you can use it to react quickly if you slip or trip.
  • Be prepared: Sprinkle salt or sand over the sidewalks and pathways before or immediately after a snow.
  • Check your safety gear: Wear thick-soled shoes with tread in order to increase traction.
  • Do not carry big items: Try not to carry bulky or heavy items on a slippery or icy surface.
  • Extra time to travel: Walk slowly and carefully on sidewalks and pathways.
  • Focus on where you are going: Pay attention to where you put your feet as you take each step.

Especially for the elderly population, winter brings a higher risk of falls. Slippery surfaces are particularly hazardous for older adults because of increasing balance problems and muscle weakness with age. In general, more than a third of people over the age of 65 experience a fall each year, and the rate goes up to over half of people over the age of 75. It is important for older adults to be active, and regular exercise can help reduce the risk of falls in the winter. A number of fall prevention exercise programs are offered in Omaha. For example, the National Safety Council, Nebraska, (2) offers tai chi classes across the Greater Omaha Area and in Council Bluffs to improve balance, and the Home Instead Center for Successful Aging at UNMC (3) offers programs to improve balance and mobility.

For more information on the fall prevention program with tai chi, please contact Joseph Siu, PT, PhD at kcsiu@unmc.edu.

To learn more about fall prevention:
1. National Safety Council: Protecting Ourselves from Slips, Trips, and Falls: http://www.nsc.org/safety_home/Resources/Pages/Falls.aspx
2. Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services: Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Report: http://dhhs.ne.gov/publichealth/Documents/Report2004-2006.pdf
3. National Safety Council, Nebraska, F1RST Fall Intervention: http://www.f1rst.org/
4. UNMC: Home Instead Center for Successful Aging, EngAge Wellness: http://www.unmc.edu/homeinsteadcenter/wellness.htm
5. CDC: Injury Prevention & Control: Home and Recreational Safety: http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/index.html
6. CDC: Falls among Older Adults: http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html

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