According to the Minnesota Department of Health, falls are the leading cause of injury for children, and for all adults 35 and older. They account for almost half the hospitalized injuries and are the leading cause of injuries treated in emergency departments.
At The Urgency Room we see many injuries from falls, especially when the temperatures drop and ice forms on walkways and roads. In fact, on an icy morning in the Twin Cities, about 90 percent of the patients we see are those who fell on the ice and fractured an ankle or a wrist. So many of these accidents happen to people who are walking outside to grab the newspaper. Others noted the ice and took it slow on the drive to work, but, once parked, rush to get inside their office and slip in the parking lot. I can’t tell you how many patients I see who went outside on an icy day to simply “see how slick it was.”
I tell patients to always assume they will fall on an icy day and prepare for it. That means hold onto your car when you get out into the parking lot at work or walk very carefully and with a wide gate (or like a duck) if you’re going outside. Or, don’t go outside at all if you don’t have to.
Aside from ice, there are other lesser-known ways you can increase your chances of a fall-related injury. Here are the top no-nos you may not have considered:
No-no #1: Hands in your pockets
I like to tell patients to always wear gloves. That way they are less prone to put their hands in their pockets on a cold day. This is a problem especially on an icy day when a fall could result in a head injury instead of a broken wrist.
No-no #2: Extra grippy tennis shoes
It would seem the more grip on your shoes, the better protection from a fall, right? Not necessarily. We see, especially with seniors, more grip can make the feet stick and cause tripping and falls. I suggest shoes with regular grip or tread.
No-no #3: Area rugs
Area rugs are especially dangerous with seniors who tend to shuffle when they walk and then trip on the edges of the rug. Bathroom rugs often cause falls because they are generally placed on hard surfaces like tile and can slip around. We see many injuries in The Urgency Room from falls in the bathroom. Adding to the problem is the fact that bathroom surfaces are generally hard. Think of sinks, toilets, cabinets, etc.
No-no #4: Too low toilet seats
Toilet seats that are too low can be major hazards for falls. For older adults, legs can start to atrophy and lose their strength. That means when it’s time to get back up from using the toilet, the legs give out, causing a fall.
No-no #5: Pets
Our pets love to be the center of attention… and I mean that literally. How many times has your dog or cat laid right in the center of a walkway? Or at the top of the stairs. Or, maybe your furry friend likes to follow you around? These are reasons why our pets are major tripping hazards. I’m certainly not suggesting you get rid of your animals. But, it’s important to be aware of our pets, especially when an older relative or friend visits.
If you or a loved one has fallen, it’s important to make sure you are ok. If you are uncertain of your injuries, be sure to get checked out. Also, an ounce of prevention goes a long way. Be careful on ice and be aware of your surroundings to prevent fall-related injuries.
Dr. Carolyn McClain is medical director of The Urgency Room.