June 20, 2018
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‘It changes your whole life when you take a big spill’: The dangers of wintertime falls

Eric Zelz | BDN
Eric Zelz | BDN
By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff

Annette Lord of Bangor was out for a Sunday afternoon walk with her husband and “little furball” of a dog last winter when she suffered an injury that laid her up for more than two months.

The dog, a 14-pound maltese-havanese mix, took off and hit the end of the leash just as Lord’s feet encountered a patch of ice covered with snow along a riverbank.

“I just flew through the air, came down and landed on the ice,” Lord said. “I jumped right up and thought I was just fine and dandy. I was, for a day or so.”

After developing excruciating pain in her back, she was transported to the hospital by ambulance. Lord, then 59, came home a few hours later with medication that offered almost no relief for her pinched nerves and unrelenting muscle spasms. It wasn’t until a cortisone shot three weeks later that the pain finally let up, following by several more weeks of recuperation.

“All of a sudden I found myself thinking that I was like 95 years old,” Lord said. “I was walking with a walker.”

Now, she’s much more conscious of her surroundings, she said.

“It changes your whole life when you take a big spill like that,” Lord said. “You become much more aware of how vulnerable we are.”

Now a manager at Sunbury Village, a senior living community in Bangor, Lord said her fall has made her more aware of the dangers ice and snow pose particularly for seniors.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention, one in three adults aged 65 and older experiences a fall each year. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries.

About a third of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as cuts, hip fractures or head traumas, which can make it hard to get around or live independently, according to the CDC. Even those who take a spill but aren’t injured may develop a fear of falling that causes them to limit their activities, which can result in reduced mobility and lagging fitness that in turn actually raise the risk of another fall.

“Falls happen to people of all ages, but they are more likely to occur in older adults,” Dr. Jessica Aronowitz, a surgeon at Eastern Maine Medical Center’s Orthopedic Surgical Specialists, said in a recent press release warning of the risks of wintertime falls. “Slipping on the ice and snow can cause shoulder, hip, or knee problems, which may require medical attention and months of recovery. With a little extra caution, it’s easy to stay safe this winter.”

Aronowitz suggested several tips for avoiding outdoor falls:

• Be active – Exercise regularly to keep bones and joints healthy and strong. If you’re unable to participate in more strenuous activity, try low-impact exercises such as yoga, walking, and swimming. Always consult with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise program.

• Choose winter-worthy footwear – When there is snow and ice on the ground, wear boots with good treads on the soles. Buy footwear that fits properly, and keep the laces tied. Avoid high heels, sandals, and shoes with little tread on the soles.

• Prepare your home for winter – Ensure there’s adequate lighting between the front door and vehicles, repair damaged stairway railings, and have a plan to remove snow and ice from the driveway as soon as a storm is over. Use salt granules to melt ice in troublesome areas.

• Take your time – Allow a few extra minutes to get to your vehicle, especially after a storm. Always look for the safest and most direct route to your vehicle.

“If you do experience a serious fall, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room,” Aronowitz said. “For minor falls, call your primary care provider.”

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