4 Ways to Prevent Winter Slips and Falls

In many areas around the United States, March marks a time for change. The weather is breaking, and the end of winter is in sight. In Westchester County, like most counties in the northeast, the threat of snow and ice looms well into the backend of the month. With these conditions, comes the potential for falling, especially for the elderly. In the season of slips and falls, students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program (D.P.T.) program in the School of Health Sciences and Practice (SHSP) at New York Medical College (NYMC) use hands-on experience from their community service projects to provide preventative care advice, including fall-related accident prevention.

Every year, the D.P.T. students at NYMC work together to carry out community service projects, providing a physical-therapy-related service that addresses a local or under-resourced community need. One group in particular, the Health and Wellness Group from the D.P.T. Class of 2022, offered a fall risk assessment for members of the Westchester community.

“When the students participate in these projects with the geriatric community, they appreciate how enriching the interaction with these patients can be,” explains S. Nikki Gawronski, D.P.T., PT, GCS, CEEAA, assistant professor of physical therapy at NYMC and geriatric certified specialist.

As a faculty advisor for the Health and Wellness Group, Dr. Gawronski says the students who completed the fall risk assessment gained just as much from the experience as the patients who were being evaluated.

The fall risk assessment included a physical evaluation of the residents’ strength, balance and gait, as well as questions regarding falls in the past year, unsteadiness when standing or walking and concerns about falling. They also explored how this is affected in snowy or icy conditions.

When the thermometer reads below freezing, everyday actions are accompanied with increased risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year millions of people over the age of 65 will experience a fall. The rate of injury increases sharply as temperatures decline. One in four older people fall each year, but less than half notify their health care provider. Falling once doubles the chances of falling again. By 2030, CDC anticipates there will be seven fall-related deaths every hour in the U.S.

Dr. Gawronski noted several precautions one can take if faced with icy conditions:

  1. Wear proper footwear – A proper pair of lightweight boots with good support can make all the difference. You can also purchase snow grips for the bottom of your shoes for better traction.
  2. Take your time – Pay attention to your surroundings and walk slowly.
  3. Take small steps – Small steps, from side to side, help you maintain your center of gravity.
  4. Stay inside – When it is icy, do not go out unless it is absolutely necessary.

There is also an option to get a home lift.

In the instance of a fall:

  • Do not immediately get back up – Stay down. Do a mini self-assessment before attempting to get up. Wiggle your fingers and toes to make sure you did not break anything.
  • Seek medical attention – If you fall and hit your head, you should be evaluated by a medical professional. If you take blood thinners and fall, you should seek immediate medical attention. Blood thinners can have lasting effects, potentially resulting in brain injury.

For more information about the D.P.T. Program at New York Medical College, visit nymc.edu/dpt or contact the NYMC SHSP Office of Admissions at (914) 594-4510 or shsp_admissions@nymc.edu. Make a difference in your community and become part of one the most well established program-based physical therapy programs in the country.

Tyler Landis is the assistant director of communications for New York Medical College

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