Bracing for a winter in Canada

Winter is here and it’s not going anywhere for a long time! If you aren’t one of over 500,000 Canadian snowbirds wintering in Florida, these tips could save you a costly fall.

Did you know? Falls on ice cause more serious injuries than any single winter sport. In fact, injuries incurred in all winter sports combined don't account for as many hospitalizations as falls on ice.

In 2010-2011, 7,138 people were hospitalized in Canada because of injuries sustained during falls on ice, not including those who didn't go to hospital, were treated and released or died at the scene, according to British Columbia's injury research and prevention unit and the provincial ministry of health.

Winter in Canada

Half the people hospitalized for falls on ice were 60 and older.  A fall that would bruise a hip at 20 can shatter it at 80. Here are some factors that contribute to falls and ways of mitigating your risks.

5 Simple Tips to Avoid Winter Falls

1. Exercise As you age, what you don't use, you lose in terms of muscle tone. Loss of muscle tone is often most significant in the lower extremities, leading to a decreased ability to walk and balance yourself, which then leads to a greater risk of falls and other injuries.

Things you can do:Keep fit to maintain muscle tone and improve your balance. Enroll in an age appropriate balance/fitness class or walk with friends at the mall.

If aches and pain limit your mobility, try compression supports and braces to improve your balance and reinforce your joints. New products on the market such as Synergy’s bamboo supports and braces help reduce pain and inflammation from arthritis and diabetes while offering support where needed.

2. Be aware of your environment – Many seniors who have had a bad fall become nervous and overly cautious thus cutting down on their activity. This leads to reduced balance, strength and poor reflexes. Eliminating tripping and slipping hazards inside and outside the home can help prevent this.

Things you can do:Look as you step off a curve and avoid dangerous icy patches. Buy that salt now so you have it before stores run out. Salt your porch, driveway and stairs, arrange for snow blowing and always use handrails.  Remove scatter rugs, keep floors and stairways clear of objects like shoes, be mindful of slippery bathtubs, tree roots, concrete bumpers in parking lots and your pets.

3. Hydrate We know drinking plenty of water is important on hot days but it is also critical for people at risk for low blood pressure, a main cause of dizziness. Your blood pressure is continually changing, depending on activity, temperature, diet, emotional state, posture, physical state, and medication use. Antidepressants and hypertension drugs can also directly affect your balance and cause dizziness, increasing risks of falling.

Things you can do:  Be mindful of how you feel. Talk to your doctor if medications are making you feel dizzy, as they may be able to adjust the dosage. Drink plenty of water, eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy lifestyle as these factors really make a difference in your health and well-being.

4. Boost Your Vitamin D – Vitamin D is associated with greater muscle strength in healthy men and women as it helps the body absorb calcium.  A vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis in adults, which affects balance and mobility. Our bodies get vitamin D naturally from the sun. However, during the winter, we aren't outside as often and skin exposed to sunshine indoors through a window does not produce Vitamin D.

Things you can do:  Take a vitamin D supplement and eat fatty fish (such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel) as these are among the best sources of vitamin D. Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks provide small amounts. Most milk is fortified with Vitamin D and many breakfast cereals and some brands of soy beverages, orange juice, yogurt, and margarine contain added Vitamin D. Check the nutrition fact panel on the food label.

5. Get Your Eyes Checked – According to a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2010, poor vision is seen to increase the risk of falling. A person with impaired vision may not see hazards, particularly if peripheral vision is limited; may not see a poorly lit bottom step, particularly if depth perception is affected; and may not notice the change from carpet to slippery tiles, particularly if contrast sensitivity is impaired. Multifocal and bifocal glasses can further impair contrast sensitivity and depth perception.

Things you can do: Have your eyes checked once/year and wear single-vision glasses while out on walks, as bifocal and progressive lenses can cause missteps.

Serious injury from a fall can cause a sudden loss of independence, an uncomfortable reliance on family and friends, and an increased fear of falling again, further limiting mobility and activity levels. Use these tips to stay safe and age well, even in this harsh northern climate!!

For more clinical research on the importance of FIR Hip Supports in falls protection, and to purchase from the full line of products visit Synergy’s award-winning hip supports can also be found at Shoppers Drug Mart.