Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Winter can be a challenging time of year to get out and about. Freezing rain, icy surfaces and piles of hard-packed snow pose a hazard for pedestrians, especially seniors.

One bad fall can have long-term consequences. These include: chronic pain in the affected area; a disabling injury that may mean loss of independence; or fear of another fall, which discourages a healthy, active lifestyle.

A few simple measures can make it safer to walk outdoors in the winter. Removing snow and ice, putting sand or salt on areas where people walk, and wearing the right footwear all make a big difference.

Equip yourself with the necessary gear

Choose a good pair of winter boots. For warmth and stability look for these features: well insulated and waterproof; thick, non-slip tread sole; wide, low heels; and light in weight.

Consider buying ice grippers to put on your footwear to help you walk on hard packed snow and ice. Be sure to remove them before walking indoors as they can become dangerously slippery on smooth surfaces such as stone, tile and ceramic. Make sure to sit down when you put on and remove the ice grippers from your footwear.

Use a cane to help with balance. Have it fitted to the right height for you. Speak to your doctor, pharmacist or local public health department about how to use your cane properly.

Attaching an ice pick to the end of your cane can improve your stability on icy surfaces even more. Although cane picks are helpful outdoors, they become slippery on hard surfaces so be sure to flip it back as soon as you get indoors. Picks are available at most drug stores.

If you need further support, talk to your doctor about using a walker.

Wearing a hip protector (a lightweight belt or pant with shields to guard the hips) could be an option for those who are apprehensive about venturing out into icy conditions. It can help protect the hips against fractures and gives the added confidence to maintain an active lifestyle.

Prevent heat loss by wearing a warm hat, scarf, and mittens or gloves. Dress in layers to help keep you warm. Wear bright colors or add retro-reflective material to clothing to help others see you more easily.

Take added precautions

Keep your entranceways and sidewalks clear of ice and snow, or contact a local service for help with snow removal.

Carry a small bag of grit, sand or non-clumping cat litter in your jacket pocket or handbag, to sprinkle when you are confronted with icy sidewalks, steps, bus stops, etc.

If you approach a particularly icy surface, ask a passer-by to help you cross.