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Fall Prevention: Holiday Edition

Because the only thing falling this season should be snow.

It's the most wonderful time of the year... and a not-so-wonderful time to fall and hurt yourself. As a physical therapist, I preach daily on how to prevent falls and avoid injury. Falls lead to broken bones, concussions, back injuries, bruised egos, and other ailments. This holiday season, instead of turning my fall prevention tips into a whimsical carol I decided to spare your ears and compile them into a blog post instead. You're welcome.

In no particular order, let's explore some of the main culprits of holiday falls and ways to manage them.

Culprit #1: Santa Paws

Back when I worked in a hospital, I had a patient who actually fell and broke her hip because she tripped over her daughter's new puppy. I immediately thought of all the times I've been cooking dinner and almost stepped directly on my dog's head, or when my cat has tried to murder me by running between my feet as I'm going down the stairs. I don't actually think our pets are out to get us, but I do think they have a horrible concept of personal space.

During the holidays, you might have family visiting who brings their dogs, babies, toddlers, and other small creatures that can easily get underfoot. If you have balance difficulties or are generally concerned about tripping over their little ones while prepping family dinner, make sure to set boundaries (both physical and emotional).

  • Use gates and other barriers to keep pets and kids out of high traffic areas like the kitchen or entry way.

  • Ask family members to keep track of their children or fur-babies so they aren't sneaking up on you. For example: "Hey, I'm really excited that you and the dogs are visiting this year. Could you keep an eye on them to make sure they aren't in the kitchen and dining room while I'm are cooking? My balance has been off lately and I don't want to risk falling over one of them and hurting myself- or them!"

  • Keep floors clear of toys and other small objects that could result in a fall. No one wants to step on a bone that your dog has chewed down to a small dagger- trust me, I do it every other day.

Culprit #2 - Up on the Rooftop...

Remember that scene in The Santa Clause where Tim Allen witnesses Santa fall of the roof and then he gets to be the new Santa?? Yeah... if you fall off the roof during the holidays, the only thing you'll get is a trip to the emergency room.

We all love our outdoor holiday lights and showing off to the neighbors, but it can also be a dangerous process because it typically involves a ladder and/or getting up on the roof itself. Here are some tips on how to not end up like Santa:

  • Set your ladder up for success: Make sure it's on a flat, level surface (not balancing precariously on two piles of snow), the steps are dry and clean, and all parts are intact before going any further.

  • Always use a spotter. Don't be a hero! Ask a relative that doesn't annoy you to stand at the base of the ladder to make sure everything goes according to plan.

  • Wear proper footwear. I would hope it goes without saying that you shouldn't wear your house slippers on the roof, but hey, I've seen some things. Wear shoes with good traction as well as laces or buckles to keep them secure on your feet.

  • Only operate with a "clear mind". Don't use a ladder or other equipment if you're experiencing symptoms that day, such as dizziness, nausea, light headedness, etc. And hold the egg nog if you're planning on decorating after dinner.

  • Keep your hands as free as possible when going up or down the ladder. Position lights, tools, and other objects securely in one hand or have a second person pass them to you once you are in a safe, stationary position.

  • NEVER stand on your tiptoes on the top rung of the ladder. If you can't reach, you need a bigger ladder!

  • When in doubt, if it feels questionable, reevaluate the situation before proceeding.

Culprit #3 - Ice Ice Baby

This one should be of no surprise- icy sidewalks, driveways, and stairs result in falls every year- regardless of age, physical ability, or credit score. Unfortunately, I've even seen patients fall on their way into the building for their PT appointment, so it can literally happen anywhere.

  • Use the buddy system. There's no shame in the arm-in-arm or hand-holding game to keep yourself upright.

  • Salt sidewalks and keep pathways clear. If you are physically unable to safely shovel the driveway or sidewalk, hire someone to do it for you or ask a kind neighbor in exchange for some butter (do people still do that?)

  • Inform local businesses if you notice their sidewalks, entryways, or parking areas are unsafe.

  • Walk like a penguin! Take short, shuffled steps on icy terrain and keep your base of support wide. Make sure your hands are available (not holding heavy bags or in your pockets) so you can catch yourself in case you lose your balance.

Culprit #4 - UnbeLEAFable

If you live somewhere like the Pacific Northwest, winter weather can be all over the place. This means along with winter snow and ice, you might also see rain and wet leaves. Combine all of those together and, well, that's just a regular Tuesday in Portland.

Leaves can be especially sneaky because they can cover other things like curbs, holes, uneven ground, dog poop... you get it. The other day I was walking along minding my own business when I stepped on (what I thought was) a small pile of leaves. It turned out to be the edge of a curb and I almost rolled my ankle. Sneaky leaves...

It's really important to be aware of the ground in front of you because looks can be deceiving this time of year. A pile of leaves can turn into a curb or an innocent, singular leaf can be the slippery banana peel that leads to your demise. This is even more true now that it gets dark out so early.

Just like with ice, use the buddy system and keep walkways clear of debris to avoid falling on the remnants of autumn.

In summary... fall prevention, but make it festive.

Hopefully these tips will save you a bump to the head or a broken hip this holiday season. Now go out there, don't fall, and stay merry.

This is Neuro B.C.'s first blog post, so be sure to come back and look out for future helpful topics! We love feedback and want to keep articles coming that are helpful to you, so please contact us with any suggestions or topics of concern.

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