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Tips for avoiding falls in winter

When older folks fall, the consequences are usually

When older folks fall, the consequences are usually far more serious than for younger people. (Jan. 11, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

January and February are the two coldest months on Long Island, so before March slips in, there probably will be several occasions to slip and slide on snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain and other wintry mixes.

When older folks fall, the consequences are usually far more serious than for younger people. Unfortunately, older people also are more prone to falling, especially on slick surfaces.

"As you get older, you tend to lose your sense of balance," says Dr. Ronald Grelsamer, an orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan. Every winter, Grelsamer sees patients who have taken a bad spill. The injuries suffered are almost as varied as there are body parts. "It really depends on what direction they fall," Grelsamer says. "It's not predictable. It could be the knees, the elbow, the wrist, the shoulder."

To increase your odds of staying upright on the ice, Grelsamer recommends changing the way you walk. "One of the key things is to move your feet ever so slightly apart so you have a wider base," he says. Also, be careful that your footwear doesn't trip you up. Often, those boots you grab every winter really aren't made for snow or ice. "These boots are sometimes more mud boots than they are snow boots," Grelsamer says. "The undersurface is relatively smooth. They don't grip the snow at all."

Also, be especially alert when exiting vehicles. Many people slip as they get out of a car, especially on the passenger side, where ice accumulates along the curb. Holding onto the door as you exit the car can give you extra support, but be careful that the door doesn't swing as you are stepping onto the pavement.

Outdoor slips may increase during the winter, but indoor falls are not seasonal. Grelsamer suggests you do activities that will increase your balance. Tai chi is helpful, or you can purchase a balance board and exercise at home. Boards are available at many sporting goods stores. sells a senior balance board that is designed for older people because it is a bit larger than the typical board.

No matter how cautious you are, you can't avoid what you can't see, so get your eyes examined regularly. "What happens with older people is they haven't had their eyesight checked in a while, so they're not seeing as well as they should," Grelsamer says.

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