Age matters in the winter!
Updated: Mar 12
Do you live near your Grandma, Grandpa, or Mom, or Dad, or any other mobility impaired people who are close to you?
Well, do them a favour this winter!!! Seniors (as well as those with mobility/mental/physical impairments) are vulnerable during the winter months.
As we age, there are many natural body processes that affect our ability to function safely in the winter: decline in cognitive ability, decreased vision, reflexes, balance, muscle strength, sensation, bone density, and arthritis. If multiple of these processes or factors overlap, it increases a senior’s risk and severity of a fall.
The following are risk factors for falls and injury related to falls¹ :
Muscle weakness and reduced physical fitness
Use of assistive devices
Fear of falling
Poor footwear and clothing
Use of multiple medications
Risk taking behaviours
Lack of social network or community support
POOR WEATHER CONDITIONS
Others who may need help this winter include those:
With chronic conditions or disabilities
With mobility impairments
Who use gait aids
With physical or cognitive impairments
Who live alone or are socially isolated
Give me the stats you say?
15% of fall related injuries in Canadians 65+ are a result of slipping on snow or ice.²
The number of falls in Canadians more than doubles from the 65 to the 85+ age group.¹
In 2017–2018, 51% of all injury-related hospitalizations in Canada were for seniors age 65 and older. During that period, 137,568 seniors were hospitalized because of injuries. 81% of injury hospitalizations among seniors in 2017–2018 were due to falls.⁷
The average length of stay shows that seniors who fell and were admitted to hospital spent an average of approximately three weeks in hospital.⁷
Seniors falls cost $5.6 billion a year.⁶
The majority of injuries resulting from a fall are broken or fractured bones (35%) followed by sprains or strains (30%) and scrapes, bruises or blisters (19%). This finding highlights the importance of bone health in preventing fall-related injuries among seniors.¹
In fall-related hospitalizations among seniors aged 65, half of them stemmed from a fall occurring at home.²
In Canada, 15% of the population experience winter blues and 2 to 6% experience SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder.²)
Depression is the most common psychological mood problem in the elderly, 40% of hospitalized older adults are clinically depressed.³
One study of over 6,500 Caucasian women aged 70 years and older showed a positive relationship between strong family networks and lower fall rates.²
Another study found that being married, living in current residence for five years or more, using proactive coping strategies in response to stress, having a higher level of life satisfaction, and engagement in social activities in older age all had a protective effect on preventing hip fractures due to falls.²
100% of grandkids would feel poorly if their Grandmother slipped on her driveway trying to get her mail!!
So, what can you do?
Embrace responsibility for the health and wellbeing of those around you this winter! Not only do we want to keep our seniors safe, but we also want to keep them moving this winter. During the winter months, a senior’s ability to ambulate in the community decreases greatly. This, combined with a Canadian’s increased risk of experiencing SAD, pre-disposes our seniors to mood disorders which can negatively affect their health. They should not have to choose between mental health and their physical well-being!
Here are a number of things that you can do this winter to keep our seniors, and any mobility impaired persons close to you, safe:
Have a conversation: Ask them how they feel about the challenges winter brings. Are they confident, do they feel nervous, are they aware that they are at risk during the winter? Find out if they have been getting outside much and how they are feeling physically; how do they feel about their balance? Ask about any falls in the last 12 months. You can use this conversation as an opportunity to educate them on the ways they can increase their safety (to be discussed later!) and create a space for them to voice any concerns they have. You can then have them make an appointment with their doctor if you uncover any.
Be prepared: Set them up with a means of calling for help, whether to yourself or emergency responders. Have a plan in the case of a fall (both inside and outside the home), and a plan in case of a power outage. Putting these safeties in place can help give seniors the confidence to stay active and continue to live their lives!
Offer physical assistance: Keep the walkways around their house clear of snow and ice, salt walkway before storms, place doormats inside doorways, deliver mail or groceries if needed, and offer your arm when walking together.
Proper shoes/clothing: Ensure they are equipped with sturdy, non-slip soled boots and water-resistant outerwear. Dress in layers, keep skin covered, protect extremities, and get out of wet clothes ASAP.
Gait, visual and hearing aids: Decreased vision and hearing ability are risk factors for a fall. Check in to see if they are, and have been, wearing the appropriate visual and hearing aids. Regularly replace the rubber tips on the bottom of gait aids and dry them off immediately if they get wet from being outdoors.
Keep them socially engaged: A socially isolated senior, is a senior at risk of a fall. Keep them engaged and active. Stay in contact and offer to take them on outings. Offer to go with them on errands they don’t feel confident doing alone. Call them on especially cold or snowy days to see if they need anything.
Get Help: Health and wellness are a team effort, and you can’t do it on your own or without the willingness of the person involved. Ask for help from family members and have your senior keep in contact with their doctor or other health care professionals. If you yourself are feeling fatigued or affected by the winter months, get help! You must take care of yourself before you can be of assistance to anyone else.
What can they do?
Winter safety starts in the summer: Unfortunately, winter is a yearly occurrence…BUT this gives us the opportunity to plan, get supplies, and have emergency plans ready before you need them!
Stay active, eat healthy and get a good sleep: Keep moving throughout the year and exercise in your home when you can’t be in the community. Prioritize lower extremity strength and balance, as well as aerobic exercise; robustness in your balance and strength helps to mitigate fall risks (see your doctor before starting any new exercise regimes.) Proper nutrition and sleep optimize your ability to function as well as your resiliency to falls, and your capacity to heal from them.
Stay on top of chronic conditions or disabilities: A wide range of chronic conditions can increase one’s risk of falls, including neurological disorders, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, end-stage renal disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or the effects of a stroke. These chronic conditions result in physical limitations that affect one’s mobility, gait, and balance.
Medications: Medications can both cause or reduce symptoms resulting in fall risk, ensure you are taking the appropriate kind and dosage.
Avoid risky behaviours: Understand your limitations; evaluate the safety of an activity and operate with a level of caution that is appropriate. Do not participate in risky activities or activities that are beyond your physical scope. Avoid rushing and a lax attitude about outdoor mobility
Ask for help: If you feel fear about going outside or doing a chore, ask for help! Don’t slow down or change your lifestyle because of fear, this can cascade into stagnancy and further health problems. Fear of falling is also a risk factor for falling!
Regarding a fall...
Each older person in our lives faces a unique combination of risk factors based on life circumstances, health status, health behaviours, economic situation, social supports, and the environment.¹ Taking the time to discuss this with them helps us understand what puts them at risk of falling and is an opportunity to mitigate this. Step up! Call your Grandma, call your neighbour, call your Dad, take responsibility and ask them if they need help. Remember to ask for help if you need it yourself. Stay safe and warm this winter!!
1. Statistics Canada. Canadian community health survey - annual component (ccHs). Health survey. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2012. report no.: 3226.
2. Mood Disorders Association of Ontario. How prevalent is SAD? Mood Disorders of Ontario, Toronto, Canada, https://www.mooddisorders.ca/faq/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad.
3. Guccione A et al. Geriatric Physical Therapy, 3rd edition. St Louis MO: Elsevier Mosby, 2012 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8504118_A_Systems_Perspective_of_Slip_and_Fall_Accidents_on_Icy_and_Snowy_Surfaces
4. Honkanen r. the role of slippery weather in accidental falls. J occup accid. 1982;4(2-4):257-62.
5. Parachute. (2021). Potential Lost, Potential for Change: The Cost of Injury in Canada 2021.https://parachute.ca/costofinjury
6. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2020). At-a-glance – Injury hospitalizations in Canada 2018/19.
7. Canadian institute for Health information. Hospital morbidity database (HmdB) [internet]. ottawa: canadian institute for Health information. available from: http://www.cihi.ca/ciHi-ext-portal/internet/en/ document/types+of+care/hospital+care/acute+care/ hmdb_metadat