Watch Your Step

“So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact.  And remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.”  —Dr. Seuss

It’s that time of year again.  Summer is winding down, and there will soon be a chill in the air.  The leaves will turn beautiful, brilliant autumn colors before they fall to the ground.  Fall will then turn to winter, and, according to a few reliable prognosticators, the winter in the central United States is predicted to be colder with more snow than usual. 

Time will tell.

However, there is one statistic that holds true every year:  there are more accidental falls in the wintertime than other seasons.  Snow and ice are typical on and off from November through March, which makes travel by vehicle—and on foot—more dangerous.

Annually, in the United States alone, there are approximately 32,000 deaths attributed to falls.  Most take place in, or near the home of the victim.  Beyond that, there are countless injuries among those who do fall.  Broken bones and head injuries are common, as are wrist injuries sustained while trying to break the fall.  Broken hips are common as well, which require extended periods of rehabilitation. 

Advanced age, which brings with it declined strength, balance, depth perception and judgement, is associated with increased falls.  Cognitive decline often affects decision-making and risk awareness, thus increasing the number of falls.

However, falls can happen to anyone at any age.  It seems that the younger the person, the more inclined they are to attempt to multi-task, which may look like this:

  • looking at your phone while walking down the stairs
  • trying to walk too fast to keep up with one’s busy schedule
  • carrying a laundry basket and stopping to pick up other things
  • believing one is invincible, therefore falls could not happen to them.

Any age is at risk as mentioned, with these risk factors especially among the elderly:

  • oxygen tubing getting underfoot
  • throw rugs causing a stumble/fall—these are often discouraged if there are mobility issues
  • believing one is still as nimble on their feet as they once were, especially in snow/ice
  • lacking awareness of slick/snowy/icy conditions outdoors

All ages are at risk for pets getting underfoot.  Cats and dogs have been known to cause a number of falls, and these beloved animals, while they mean no harm, can quickly dart in front of, or between your feet as you are walking.  Being aware of their presence/location is always good advice.

While they may indeed be your favorite shoes as evidenced by the wear on the soles, poor traction on one’s shoes increases the risk as well.  If the sole is worn down and slippery, this increases the fall risk.  It’s not worth it—buy another pair just like them, if you have to.

Conversely, brand new shoes, if you are not used to the tread, can also be a risk.  If the traction is vastly different, they can catch on the floor and cause you to stumble as well.  Walking in them and taking notice of this will help you to adjust.

When flooring changes from one room to another, the transition may cause decreased stability on your feet as well.  Being aware of these changes will help you to adjust.  Also, there is sometimes a threshold, a metal or wooden strip that is placed on the floor in the doorway of a room.  Awareness of these will help decrease the risk as well.

Mindfulness has been a buzzword for the last few years, but with fall prevention, it simply means this:  it is the opposite of mindlessness.  You must pay attention to, and be aware of your actions and what your next steps are.  Being aware is what it is all about. 

Watching the ground or the floor as you step is important to ensure good footing and the absence of obstacles.  Indoors, there are pets, rugs, possible clutter and perhaps spilled liquids with wet spots that contribute to the risk.  Outdoors, uneven ground, snow/ice, rocky soil and holes that may be covered by grass or weeds all increase the risk of falling. 

It is important to focus on the next few steps in front of you, but also look up after every few steps to make sure your path is clear.  As a metaphor for life in general, we should keep the big picture in view; the final destination as our goal, but focus on the steps immediately in front of you.  Taking life one step at time is always good advice, but keeping the end goal in mind helps us get there as well.  If we focus too closely on only the next few steps, we may run into something ahead of us.  Yet, if we look too far ahead, we may miss something right in front of us. 

It’s all about balance.

Speaking of balance, this is a major factor in falls, and fall prevention.  Aging can bring about decreased balance, but with continued exercise—and vigilance, this risk can be minimized.

Other factors come into play with balance:

  • low blood pressure may cause light-headedness when standing up, thus increasing fall risk
  • certain medications can affect balance, especially when they are not dosed properly
  • inner ear problems affect balance, as the balance center is located there

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Enjoy the beautiful autumn colors, and the leaves as they fall from the trees.  More importantly, be sure to watch your step, and stay on your feet.