Wintertime Fall Risk Factors
January 4, 2019
We are now officially into the “winter months” here in the Carolinas. Even though it is 62 degrees outside as I am writing this. With the winter months, there are a new set of challenges and fall risk factors that our seniors have to face when going outside. In the south, our rain totals climb, we see the occasional snow and ice storm, and on any given day the high could be in the 60’s or in the 20’s. All of these could lead to a greater probability of falls in our senior population.
As many of us now are experiencing historically higher than normal rain totals, this becomes risky for seniors that are out and about. Rain will compromise even the most stable surfaces causing them to become slick. Painted walk way lines in parking lots, the wet grass you walk on when out walking your pets, and wooden steps and decks become very slippery after rain has fallen. We also have to be increasingly careful when coming indoors after being out in the rain. The bottoms of your shoes can still be wet up to ten minutes after coming inside. This makes hardwood, vinyl, and tile floors very treacherous when navigating throughout the interior of a building or home.
Snow fall and ice storms also create the obvious fall risk factors. A good rule of thumb is that if you see snow or sleet falling just stay inside where it is warm and safe. If you have to go out in these conditions, remember that parking lots and sidewalks may be frozen even if they have been treated with salt or brine solutions. Even after these weather systems have passed, we must be aware of ice falling from the edges of buildings and houses. There is even the added risk of places refreezing after they had thawed out the day before.
Speaking on the topic of refreezing, we know that our temperatures can vary greatly during the winter months. Here in the Carolinas, one day of rain and fifty degree temperatures can quickly descend to an overnight low in the 20’s. This causes the same issues as stated above, where parking lots, sidewalks and other exterior surfaces are now iced over. Even without the presence of rain or snow, a heavy frost makes grass and wooden surfaces extremely slippery, leading to a higher risk of falls.
These risk factors are not to discourage our seniors from going out during the winter months. We want our seniors to go and move around and remain independent. However, identifying times, days, areas and surfaces that are higher risk can greatly reduce the chances that a fall may occur. We need to always keep an eye out for these conditions for our own safety, and the safety of others.