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Health Information Preventing Falls
Staying on Your Feet
Tips for avoiding falls when faced with winter weather conditions

Staying on your feet during winter can be challenging. You need to take extra care to avoid a fall when conditions are icy, snowy, slushy or wet. Older adults are especially vulnerable this time of year, so if there's an older adult in your life, take special care to keep them safe.

"People often don't realize how much of a difference simple things like good lighting and proper footwear can make, both indoors and outdoors," says Diane Genaze, PT, director of physical therapy at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "We get so busy that we forget about the basics, like being able to see clearly where you're going and having a solid footing that good shoes provide."

The following advice, while primarily geared toward older adults, is sound advice for anyone during the winter months:

  • Have well-fitting, solid footwear with a good tread on the sole.
  • Watch where you're going and take extra care.
    • Keep an eye out for potentially slick spots; take a safer route if possible.
    • Look a few feet ahead of you instead of directly underneath you. This allows you to anticipate rough spots and to make any necessary adjustments.
  • Take your time, especially if on snowy, icy or wet surfaces.
    • Don't be in such a rush to get somewhere that you take risks.
    • Be careful when getting out of a car or other vehicle; the ground underneath you may be slick. Go slowly and methodically, holding on to the car door until you feel like you have a strong footing.
  • Look for support.
    • Always use a handrail whenever one's available.
    • When a handrail is not available, have an able-bodied friend provide support.
      • If you're providing support, it's better if you allow the person to hold on to you, rather than actively holding or supporting the individual. In this way, you can provide more solid support without throwing the other person's balance off.
    • If you have a cane or walker, use it, even if it's just to feel a little bit steadier and more comfortable.
    • Wear gloves – having your hands free to catch your fall or grab a railing can make a big difference. If your hands are in your pockets trying to stay warm they won't be available when needed for a split-second reaction.

Watch yourself once you're indoors, too:

  • You may have carefully walked through ice or snow, but:
    • Your shoes may still be slick or
    • You may encounter wet floors when you arrive inside or obstacles in your path, such as discarded boots are shoes.

  • Read "A Matter of Balance" for information about what may put you at risk for a fall and actions you can take that may help you become more stable.
  • For more information about having your balance assessed at Rush, visit the Balance Assessment and Treatment Program home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874).
  • Looking for information on other health topics? Visit our Health Information home page.
  • Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

  • If you enjoyed this article and are not already a subscriber, subscribe today to Discover Rush Online. You'll receive health information, breaking medical news and helpful tips for maintaining your health each month via e-mail.

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