January 13, 2023

Injuries from winter falls can be prevented

Madison, Wis. – Most falls happen in the home any time of year, but in the winter, icy conditions outdoors add additional risk.

Each year, UW Health treats thousands of patients with injuries related to falls, and the winter can create dangerous and slippery conditions outdoors.

The good news is there are things that can be done to reduce the risk of injury inside or outside, according to Dr. Ann O'Rourke, medical director of the Level I Trauma Center at UW Health, and associate professor of surgery, UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Sidewalks and driveways get slick when it snows or rains and the temperatures drop, so make sure you have a plan to keep those places clean and dry before the bad weather arrives,” she said.

Clearing the snow or ice is important, but also make sure to put salt or ice-melting compounds on walkways to keep them dry.

Though winter presents challenges outside the home, most falls occur inside the home and impact people older than 65 most often, O'Rourke said.

“People, as they age, can lose strength and balance, or a medication might impact their ability to stay upright,” she said.

There are ways to prevent falls inside the home, for example, make sure floors are not wet and that they are cleared of clutter, shoes aren’t piled up near a doorway and check to make sure rugs and mats are anchored to the floor or held in place and that the corners are not curled up, O'Rourke said.

It’s also important to keep hallways lit at night with a nightlight, in the event you need to get up to use the bathroom, for example, she said.

“Many of these falls are preventable by keeping these common-sense actions in mind,” O'Rourke said.

Additionally, a primary care provider may be able to make a referral to an occupational therapist who can assess a person’s living space to identify any changes that might need to be made to reduce the potential for falls.

Managing a physical condition can be just as important to prevent a fall as managing the environment, according to O’Rourke.

“If you are feeling unstable, talk with your provider and discuss what physical therapy, exercise or other care could help boost your balance,” she said. “Sometimes it can be as simple as adjusting a medication if it is making you dizzy when you stand.”