Prevent falls with proper footwear, keep warm to prevent illness

Q: Do you have any helpful hints on how to prevent winter accidents? Several of my older friends have slipped and broken hips by going onto their decks in wet or slippery conditions. Two of them now use walkers to get around.

A: It is true that older people are more likely to fall and break bones in the winter months due to slippery conditions. It is not a good idea to go outside onto the deck to feed the birds or get firewood wearing inappropriate footwear. Change into winter boots with non-slip soles first.

Car accidents are one of the main reasons for injury in the winter, and they are more likely to affect younger people.

Accidents are also the main cause of death in children under the age of 14. They can also slip and fall on ice, and there are many sports related injuries from hockey, to-bogganing, skiing, figure skating and snowmobiling.

However, there are also many instances of illness and even death due to less obvious winter-related conditions. For example, some older people do not heat their houses well enough, in hopes of saving money on heating bills.

There is also the misconception that sleeping in a cold bedroom or with the window open is somehow good for you.

Being constantly cold is a risk factor for older people in particular because they tend to have poor circulation and a lower immune response. They are more at risk of developing complications from flu and colds such as pneumonia, bronchitis and heart failure.

Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in people older than 80.

There are additional hazards due to extreme weather conditions such as blizzards. Environment Canada suggests tying one end of a long rope to your door and holding onto the other end to avoid getting lost in white-out conditions and blinding snow on your acreage or farm. After the storm is over, take it easy when shovelling the path and driveway. Every year, people get heart attacks and strokes as a result of this activity.

Take frequent breaks or get a younger person or a snow removal service to do it for you.

In case of storms leading to power outages, it is advisable to keep an emergency pack with a battery-powered flashlight, a small radio, tools for emergency repair, ready-to-eat food such as nuts and chocolate bars, a first aid kit, blankets and extra warm clothing.

Environment Canada also suggests that you keep your vehicle’s gas tank full in case fuel stations close down after a storm.

Also, have cash on hand in case bank machines and electronic payment methods are down. Computers and modems don’t work without electricity.

Carbon monoxide is another hazard more likely to present a danger in winter when furnaces are running or chimneys can become blocked by snow.

Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector as well as smoke alarms.

About the author

Dr. Clare Rowson's recent articles


Stories from our other publications