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Prepare Now to Avoid Winter Falls

Dr. Rein Tideiksaar - November 28, 2016 11:53 AM

With cold, snowy and icing conditions on the way, now is the time to prepare for winter safety. Extreme weather conditions are hard on everyone, but can be particularly challenging for elders. Because of chronic health conditions, multiple medications, and impaired mobility (difficulties with walking and balance), elders don’t react the same way they did when they were younger. As a result, elders can be slower to adjust to adverse conditions that puts them at increased risk for slipping and falling. Falling and suffering an injury (hip fracture, head trauma, spinal injury, etc.) is one the greatest winter dangers, which often can be a life-changing event for many elders.
There are several preventive measures that elders can take to avoid the risk of winter falls. These include:

Stay Active

One of the most important things people can do to prepare for winter weather is to get off the couch and stay active. Being inactive because of bad weather is one of the worst things elders can do. A lack of activity can quickly lead to loss of muscle strength in the legs and balance loss, which increases one’s risk of falling.
Elders need to maintain regular physical activity to ensure strength and balance; at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days per week. This is easy enough with a brisk walk on a summer evening or a morning swim, but exercise becomes more challenging when winter weather moves in.

Here are four of the most popular and effective forms of indoor (and gym) exercise for elders:


Walking outdoors is a popular form of exercise for many elders. As an alternative, a treadmill provides all the advantages of walking while reducing the risk of falls. The handrail enables users to walk confidently at a pace that best fits their walking ability, and users can select an incline that best meets their fitness level.

Elliptical Machine

For a low-impact machine that provides aerobic exercise, the elliptical is a good alternative to the treadmill. The elliptical offers a lower-impact workout than the treadmill. For elders suffering from arthritis and joint pain it is the better option. The elliptical places less stress on the back, knees and hips while increasing heart rate to levels necessary to sustain good health.

Weight Training

Strength-training is an important part of maintaining flexibility and muscle strength. However, free weights need to be used with caution. To avoid injury, individuals need to find the right balance between how much weight is being lifted and preventing injury. As well, proper form is essential with free weights. Improper form while lifting can do more harm than good to muscles and joints and some exercises can knock individuals off-balance. It’s strongly recommended that persons using free weights get guidance from a fitness instructor or physical therapist.

As an alternative to free weights, gyms have a variety of weight-training equipment that is designed to encourage proper form, which reduces the risks of falling or other hazards that are sometimes associated with free weights.


Biking is a popular outdoor exercise for elders. Using a stationary bike indoors is a good alternative when the weather is bad. But for those individuals with hip, back or arthritis pain, the position of a cycle, even a stationary bike, can be uncomfortable. The recumbent bike is designed with a backrest for support and places users at an angle where the legs are out in front of the cycle instead of on the sides of the machine. This position places less stress on fragile hips or joints yet offers a tremendous aerobic workout.

Maintain Safe Mobility

•    Invest in extra lamps, nightlights and exterior lights, especially around steps and stairs. This helps to see and avoid potential trip and slip hazards.

•    Keep sidewalks and stairs outside the home clean of ice and snow. Make sure steps leading into the home have sturdy handrails that provide support if a slip occurs.

•    Invest in coats, gloves, hats and other winter clothing designed for warmth. Wearing a winter coat that extends just beyond an individual’s hips provides padding and protection against a hip fracture if a fall occurs.

•    Wear boots and shoes that fit properly and have soles with good traction. Keep shoes and walking aids (canes, walkers) in good working condition, dry and free of snow, ice, dirt and mud.

•    Carry a cell phone outdoors and designate someone to call for help if needed.

Be Prepared

Have a winter preparedness plan that enables an elder to remain in place for at least three days if they are unable to leave their homes due to weather conditions. This would include:

•    Having an emergency kit that contains a battery-operated radio, flashlight, extra batteries, food that can be opened and prepared easily, water (one gallon per person per day), extra blankets and a first aid kit.

•    Keeping a backup supply of the medicines persons take every day. Have an ice chest on hand and keep ice packs in the freezer for medications that needs to be kept cool.

•    Making sure medical equipment and assistive devices (such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs, lifts, oxygen tanks, etc.) are easy to locate in an emergency. Have spare batteries and non-powered options for equipment that will not work without electricity.

Check on Loved Ones

Before, during and after forecasted severe weather, family caregivers should check on elders (especially those who live alone) to ensure that they are okay and that they have the resources they need to stay safe and healthy. Some basic questions include:

•    Do you need medical attention?
•    Do you have enough food and water?
•    Is the temperature in your home comfortable?

Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D., PA-C (or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to) is the president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, N.J., a consulting company that provides educational, legal and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist (healthcare professional who specializes in working with elderly patients) and a geriatric physician's assistant. Check out Dr. Rein’s professional profile on LinkedIn: If you have any questions about preventing falls, please feel free to email Dr. Rein at

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