Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? Underneath, ice is glistening. Not a beautiful sight, we’re not happy tonight, falling in a winter wonderland!
It is hard to believe that we are less than a week into the official season of winter. Those early arctic storms brought snow measured in feet and smiles to the rosy faces of skiers and boarders alike. Even the Nordic trails garnered enough of the white stuff to be groomed and ready for the masses. Then came the bitter lows and sunny days of freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw cycles and we are left with some of the most difficult, a/k/a double black or expert, terrains: the roads and sidewalks. Accidents just waiting to happen. Black ice and wind sheared, shady patches add even more adventure to the frosty mix (not to be confused with a frosty beverage!).
Even without the elements of our wintry paradise, falls are quite popular among older adults. Every ELEVEN seconds an older adult is seen in the emergency room for a fall-related injury. Falling (not the in-love kind) is one of the greatest fears among folks over the age of 65. In fact, falling just once doubles your chance of falling again (wish that was the in-love kind). On top of that, once a person falls, even when not injured, the fear of falling causes a reduction in everyday activities. A reduction in everyday activities makes one weaker, which increases the likelihood of falling. How about that for a vicious cycle?
Falling is a very costly tumble, nationwide, with the medical costs each year totaling $50 billion for non-fatal falls and $754 million from fatal falls. Yes, according to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in adults over the age of 65. Colorado is leading the way with the dubious honor of having one of the highest rates of deaths from falls in the country, with residents over the age of 65 accounting for 86 percent of all fall deaths.
Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries in Colorado. Who pays for all this? Twenty five percent comes from private or out-of-pocket payers (as so many in our Valley have no health insurance); Medicare and Medicaid cover the remainder. As our adult populations increase, the number of falls and the costs of treatment will rise dramatically. No wonder people are afraid.
The good news is that falls are preventable. Once you identify your own personal risk factors for falling, modifications may be made to alleviate, or at least lessen, your exposure to danger. The simplest steps concern items in your physical environment such as your home and yard. Remove tripping hazards such as rugs, rumpled mats and cords (but not your furry friend, of course!) and eliminate steps where possible. Install railings and grab bars in strategic places. Use brighter lighting and motion sensors that light the way for you (makes you feel important as well!).
Medications (both prescribed and over-the-counter) and a vitamin D deficiency (sunshine not only makes you happy, it makes you stronger) may contribute to falling. Ask your doctor or friendly pharmacist to review your medications for falling risk factors such as light-headedness or those that make you drowsy.
Exercise classes focused on strength and balance are the most popularly attended in the Valley (they are onto something!), including Tai Chi and yoga. Making your legs stronger while working on your balance is not only good for fall prevention, it is a good way to stay connected to your friends – especially in these winter months. Call Mandi Dicamillo, the El Jebel/Eagle County Healthy Aging Coordinator (970-379-0020) for information on class times. Resolve to have a more balanced approach in 2020!
Circling back to our wonderful winter weather, invest in sturdy, well-treaded boots. Make sure your walkways remain free of ice and snow and use a generous amount of sand and/or deicer in those shady spots. Research has found that even when the temperatures are below freezing, ice has a thin layer of water on top. Who knew? Ice is the most slippery as it warms to 32 degrees. Keep that in mind before you go slip-sliding away.
Later on, we’ll conspire as we sit by the fire, to face unafraid, the slippery sidewalks Old Man Winter has made, in our perfect winter wonderland. Happy Holidays and be safe out there!
Mary Kenyon has completed her five-year assignment as the Pitkin County Aging Well Coordinator and is the new Roaring Fork Valley Director of A Little Help. She is passionate about identifying issues and resources for seniors in the Valley. Email her your challenges and suggested solutions at firstname.lastname@example.org.