Outdoor Fall Prevention for All Seasons

fall prevention

Did you know that about half of all falls happen outdoors? That’s according to research from the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, which also points out that though so many falls happen outdoors, most fall prevention programs and tips focus on preventing falls indoors. A study in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics found that many older adults aren’t aware of the fall risks outdoors and thus, have trouble knowing how to prevent taking a hard tumble.

Falls and fall risk have been studied in-depth for years. About 30% of adults aged 65 and older fall down every year, and 48% of falls among older adults happened outdoors. The incidence of falls outdoors among middle-aged adults is even higher at 72%.

While some seniors who fall experience minor injuries, such as bruises and scrapes, some face prolonged pain, soreness, or severe consequences, such as fractures, rotator cuff problems, or issues that necessitate stitches or surgery.

Perhaps just as serious are the emotional and mental consequences of a fall. The elderly who suffer a fall might feel significant anxiety or fear about having another fall, as well as embarrassment strong enough to prevent them from seeking medical care or even disclosing the incident to loved ones[1].

Though a medical alert pendant can help alleviate some of the anxiety and fear that contribute to the possibility of even more falls in the future, it should go hand-in-hand with an understanding of how to avoid those falls in the first place.

What Causes Serious Falls Outdoors?

There are many reasons why a person might fall outdoors. Just as with walking around inside, something in the path that is uneven can lead to tripping; outdoors, there are environmental factors that contribute to that, such as stones, fallen branches, roots jutting up from the ground, slippery conditions, and going up and down stairs. Sometimes those falls can be caused by getting tangled up in a dog’s leash or tripping over a pet. And sometimes the falls originate from the person themselves, who might be distracted, walking too fast, or wearing inappropriate shoes[2].

Avoiding serious falls matters greatly to the health and well-being of seniors. Most are aware that keeping their medical alert device on their body at all times can help them avoid serious consequences in the aftermath of a fall, and if they have a medical alert system with fall detection, that’s even better peace of mind. But knowing how to avoid that fall in the first place is vitally important.  

Let’s break down the best fall prevention strategies for the elderly, with some help from the Ohio Department of Aging.

Summer: Take Care and Stay Hydrated

When walking around outdoors during the summer, other risk factors come into play. Though rain, mud, storms, and flooding are still possible, perhaps the biggest fall risk during the summer months is the heat.

·         Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or drinks that contain electrolytes. Carry a bottle of hydrating liquid with you as you walk around outside during the summer months.

·         Dress appropriately for the outdoors, including clothing that keeps you cooler. A wide-brimmed hat can be a good shield against the sun.

·         Stay inside during the hottest part of the day. For most areas, the hottest part of the day is at roughly 3 PM[3].

·         If you begin to feel dizzy, faint, or otherwise unwell, get under cool shelter and sit down. Take the time to rest. It can be very easy to overdo it during the summer and suffer a heat-related illness.

·         Beware of the mud that comes after a hard summer rain. Not only does the mud lead to a fall risk, so does wet grass and other vegetation that can become quite slippery after rainfall. Stick to areas that are dry or close to it, such as sidewalks.

·         Watch out for fallen debris after storms, such as branches or even power lines.

Fall: Crunching Leaves Can Hide Hazards

During the autumn months, it’s easier to get outside for longer periods of time. The world isn’t nearly as warm as the cool autumn breezes come in. The colors of the trees begin to change, which can make the world around you look like a stunning wonderland. But keep in mind that those trees themselves can lead to serious trip hazards.

·         What lies beneath those beautiful fallen leaves? Trip hazards. The leaves can easily hide uneven surfaces, curbs, small imperfections in the sidewalks that can catch the toe of your shoe, or even slippery areas where a cane can slide right out from under you. If you can’t see the surface you’re walking on, it’s best to find another path.

·         If you are cleaning up those leaves, take care to do it safely. For instance, if you are using a ladder or step stool to clean leaves from gutters, take your time and make sure someone is with you as a “spotter” in case you stumble. Better yet, hire someone else to do it if you can.

·         Remember that the days begin to shorten significantly during the autumn months, so no matter where you wander outdoors, try to be back home by the time the sun goes down. You need adequate lighting to see where you’re going.

·         Always have medical alert technology with you when you venture out.

·         Remember that fallen leaves can hold onto water droplets well after the rest of the world seems dry following an autumn rain. Be careful to never walk on wet leaves.

Winter: Staying Safe in the Cold and on the Ice

Winter drives many seniors indoors for much of the season, but there are still plenty of reasons to get out of the house. You might like long walks in the cold, or you might simply need to step out to the mailbox. Either way, keep these safety tips in mind to prevent falls:

·         Make sure the sidewalks and stairs around the outside of your home have sturdy handrails. And use them every time.

·         Keep sidewalks and stairs free of snow and ice. Sprinkle melting salt generously on the stairs or sidewalks to help the ice melt and provide a bit of extra traction. (Look for pet-safe versions if you have pets that might walk over the area.)

·         Carrying a small bag of melting salt, sand, or clean kitty litter can give you something to sprinkle on icy areas as you walk, so that you have some traction to help prevent falls.

·         Take care with how you walk. Walk with a shorter, more careful stride. Point your feet out slightly and bend your knees a little, if you can, to provide better balance.

·         If you have mobility devices, always rely on them outdoors. This includes using a cane or walker as you move around.

·         Remember that snow can easily hide trip hazards, like tree roots or curbs. Avoid walking in areas where there is an inch of snow or more. 

·         Choose boots or all-weather shoes that fit well and have good traction.

·         Wear a medical alert wristband at all times. Help is just a touch away when you have an Alert1 Medical Alert with you.

Keep in mind that if you’re stuck at home, you might easily become weaker and unsteady on your feet due to lack of exercise. This can definitely lead to a fall risk, so it’s important to stay as active as you can even if Old Man Winter is blowing through. Easy indoor exercises that focus on balance are always a good idea during any season, but especially during winter, when moving around might be curtailed by the ice and snow. Eat well, drink plenty of water, keep up with light stretching to stay flexible, and talk to your doctor about other ways to stay as healthy as possible during winter, such as taking vitamin D supplements.

Spring: Watch Out for Last Season’s Debris

When spring rolls around, the snow and ice might be gone, but other hazards exist.

·         Watch out for fallen branches from winter-weary trees. Winter’s snow and ice are heavy and can easily snap branches and limbs that aren’t sturdy enough to handle it. Those wind up on the ground, where they pose a significant trip hazard.

·         That ice and snow can turn to mud as it melts, and mud can be quite slippery. Avoid walkaways that are covered in mud, even if it appears to be dry. Keep the bottom of your shoes clean to maintain good traction.

·         Spring storms can bring down branches that the winter ice missed. Just because your path was perfectly clear one day doesn’t mean it will be the next. Always be on the lookout for trip hazards, but especially after a hard storm rolls through.

·         Spring often brings floodwaters. Never underestimate the power of water. Even a small amount of flowing water can be enough to knock someone down. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can walk through flowing water – stay on dry land and stay safe.

·         Keep a medical alert close at hand. Keep it on your wrist or around your neck so it’s right there in the event of an accident. And if you do fall down or suffer any other sort of accident, don’t hesitate to use it. Remember, pressing the alert button means that trained professionals can assess the situation and help you by contacting appropriate help resources – if you don’t need an ambulance, they can call a friend, family member, or even a designated neighbor on the list to help you get the assistance you need in the moment you need it.

Tips for Outdoor Fall Prevention Year-Round

There are some common sense tips for fall prevention that you can use year-round to stay safe, secure, and upright. Here are a few of them:

·         Clean up any wetness, mud, or leaves that you might have brought into the home with you. This is true of pets as well, as they can often bring in mud and other trip hazards on their paws.

·         If conditions are too bad to get out or you are concerned about slipping, don’t go out to get the newspaper or mail. Ask your family or neighbor to do it for you. If you don’t have someone to help, wait until conditions are better or call the post office, trash collector, and others that might be able to help you with safety tips and precautions; for instance, perhaps your postal service worker can bring your mail to your door instead of putting it in the mailbox at the end of the driveway.

·         When you are out and about near the end of the day or in the early morning hours, always carry a small flashlight, just in case you get caught out when the skies darken before a storm or the sun sets.

·         Speaking of storms, look at the forecast. Are thunderstorms or heavy rain in your future? Time your outing so that you aren’t caught in the rain.

·         Avoid uneven walkways, grass, and gravel. If you are going to be walking off-road, take a walking stick or cane with you to help with balance.

·         Large crowds can lead to a trip hazard, especially if you are in an area that is pretty tightly packed with people who could bump into each other. Avoid large crowds if possible by attending events early in the day or on weekdays, when the crowds are smaller.

·         Wear shoes that have low heels, firm soles, and excellent traction.

·         Always use a handrail when it is available, such as when getting off the bus or going down a flight of stairs.

·         Make good use of pedestrian crosswalks. Look out for the curb cuts and ramps, however; some of them might not be clearly marked, and the sudden change in the surface can lead to a fall. This can also happen in places that appear to be perfectly level at first glance, such as the floor in a parking garage[4].

·         Always take your time. Never rush! Walking too fast can lead to a fall.

·         Do you need to wear glasses? Wear them at all times. Good vision can help prevent a fall indoors and out.

Finally, never underestimate the power of an emergency response system. Having a panic button right there at all times can impart peace of mind that keeps you feeling more confident, and that confidence can make you steady on your feet. That means you might not have as great of a fall risk. But if you do fall, that device is there to protect you. That’s especially true if you opt for a button with fall detection, as the tiny fall sensors in the pendant or watch can detect falls and signal for help that a fall has just occurred.

If you are outdoors quite a bit and away from home, such as hiking trails in your nearby park or recreational area, opt for a medical alert watch or other device with GPS. This can help pinpoint your location and get emergency services to you if you happen to be far from home.

As always, Alert1 wishes you health and safety!