When the weather turns colder it can be easy to forget some of the dangers that come with it.
The winter months can bring plummeting temperatures, alongside ice, snow and falling leaves, which can all increase the risk of a fall.
As much as we would all like to continue with our daily plans and activities as normal, it’s important to be mindful of the weather conditions before venturing outside.
There are many steps we can take to reduce the chances of a fall during a cold snap, both around the house and whilst out and about.
Eleri D’Arcy, falls quality and improvement lead, said: “As for all of us, the risk of falls increases when the weather is cold especially when there’s ice on the ground. We all need to be mindful of this and take more care.
“There is added risk for people who are older and frail. If they were to fall there is likely to be a bigger impact on their overall health, whether that be physically through injury or mentally and emotionally through loss of confidence and an increase in anxiety.
“Isolation is a concern and risk in itself. With the bad weather, people are more likely to stay indoors and disengage from the community. Whilst this may well be the safest option at times, we want to encourage people to stay active and engaged in community activities so not to become isolated.
“But it’s important to take proactive steps to reduce the risks associated with going out in cold weather. Think about what time you’re going out to try to avoid the early mornings when the frost is really thick or late at night when it’s dark and dress appropriately for the weather.
“Always try to let someone know what your plans are and what time you anticipate being home and be sure to have access to a mobile phone where possible so you can call for help if necessary.”
Adapting your daily activities can be beneficial in reducing unnecessary time spent outside, while there are also simple changes you can make at home to try and reduce the risk of a fall.
Eleri, pictured, added: “Consider the activities you do in and around the home which require you to go outside. You could have sealed bins in the house which you can fill to try to reduce the amount of trips you make to the bins outside. Perhaps a family member could then take them out for you.
“If you do have to take the bins out, you should make sure you put the appropriate footwear on even if you are just popping outside and try and do this in daylight hours.
“It’s important to make sure you’ve got access to something at home you can use to call for help if you need to or carry a mobile phone when you’re out.
“It’s also really important not to rush. Plan ahead so you give yourself plenty of time to complete an activity or get to an appointment. The more we rush, the more likelihood of a fall happening.”
Some other tips to help reduce the risk of falls include:
- Going out in the daytime to avoid frost as much as possible
- Using handrails when out and about and avoid using ramps
- Making sure you have enough food at home, such as bread and milk, so you don’t have to go out in bad weather
- Letting family and friends help with shopping
- Making sure you’re dressed for the cold weather, particularly with sensible footwear
- If you’re using blankets when sitting down at home, make sure they’re put away before standing up
- Keeping driveways and pathways as clear as possible
- Being careful when getting in and out of a car as the ground may be slippery
- Wearing gloves to keep your hands free in case you slip
- Letting people know where you’re going and when you’ll be back or, where possible, going with somebody
- Staying in contact with others via phone and online resources
Sharon Jackson manages physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists in the community in Swansea in her role as Interim West Hub Operational Lead.
She said: “Whether you’re inside or outside, it’s important to dress warm and wear layers. When you’re cold you naturally tense up so you don’t move as well as you would normally.
“If you’re outside, it’s important to keep your hands free and wear gloves so you can help stabilise or save yourself from a more significant injury if you were to fall.
“Friends and family can help loved ones by checking in to see if they’re coping with fuel bills, that they’re using their heating and their boiler is serviced.
“They can also make sure there’s a strategy in place so if the person was to fall at home they can contact someone with a mobile phone or lifeline, and also have blankets nearby that they can reach for at a low level so they can keep warm until help arrives.”
While falling can cause physical injuries, such as broken bones, they can often have a negative impact on the person’s confidence too.
This can lead to many people not wanting to leave their homes as regularly as they did before their fall in fear of it happening again.
Sharon said: “Falling has wide reaching implications and we can’t underestimate the impact on someone’s wellbeing and particularly their confidence.
“When somebody starts to fall they do tend to lose confidence in their abilities and they can start to reduce and engage less in activities.
“Even small physical injuries can have a significant impact on a frailer individual.”
It’s important not to wait until a fall has happened before putting preventative measures in place at home or before going outside.
Eleri has encouraged families to talk to their loved ones about the risks of falling in the hope that many more can be prevented in future.
“The risk of falling outdoors is certainly higher if it’s icy,” Eleri added.
“There’s an additional risk if someone is lying in the cold for a long time and the impact that can have on someone’s recovery.
“Having conversations about falls early can help to reduce falls, reduce the impact of falls and reduce the impact on people’s ability to go out and get on with their daily lives.
“We need to be talking about falls and the associated risks, not to scare loved ones, but to support and encourage everyone to lead fulfilled lives whilst staying as safe as possible.”