Our recent snow in Sitka served as a good reminder about how ice cleats and walking poles can help prevent falls when it’s icy or you’re hiking on uneven terrain.
These items are particularly helpful for elders, who might break bones if they fall. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 15 seconds an older adult (age 65 or older) is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and every 29 minutes an older adult dies following a fall. There are more than 2.3 million injuries a year treated in U.S. emergency rooms that are related to falls, including more than 650,000 that require hospitalizations and more than 20,000 deaths.
“Falling is the leading cause of injury among older adults in the United States and may cause moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head injuries, and may increase the risk of early death,” said Cory Welsh, a health educator for the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Injury Prevention program who focuses on preventing elder falls. Even if a person hasn’t suffered a fall, developing a fear of falling may restrict activity and decrease overall health and quality of life. Fortunately, this is a public health issue that is largely preventable.”
Every Sitka resident should have a set of ice cleats — such as YakTrax, STABILicers or Korkers — to put over their shoes when it’s icy. Since typical winter weather in Sitka means a constant rain and freeze, it can get pretty slick on the sidewalks. Most times it won’t be slick enough to need the ice cleats. But there are times when it’ll ice up and you can’t walk across the parking lot or down to the mailbox without having a pair. Don’t forget to take off your ice cleats when you get back inside, so you don’t slide on slick floors. There are a wide variety of ice cleats available, and this article will help you pick the best pair for your needs.
Walking poles or walking sticks, which can look like ski poles or canes, are great in all seasons. The walking poles give people a third and fourth balance point (besides their two feet), which helps stabilize their walk. Walking poles are great for people who suffer balance issues, such as those caused by vertigo or bad feet/knees/hips. They can help you when you go hiking over rough, uneven ground, and many hikers find the walking poles help them climb hills easier. They also can help a person ford streams, and they save wear and tear on the back and knees. When you’re more confident of your balance, you’re more likely to get out and walk.
“A great way to remain independent and reduce chances of falling is to exercise regularly,” Cory said. “It’s important that the type of exercise you choose focuses on increasing leg strength and improving balance, and that it progressively gets more challenging over time. Walking is a great way to prevent falls and has been proven to help improve coordination and balance.”
Some people prefer two walking poles, while others prefer a single walking staff. The choice goes to personal preference and what type of terrain you’re on. Here is an article with more info about walking poles.
To learn more about preventing falls, here is a fact sheet from the National Council on Aging. The Alaska Division of Public Health also has a program to help prevent elder falls. The National Institute on Aging at NIH (National Institutes of Health) produced a Workout To Go For Alaskans (see link below) that includes simple exercises to help elders improve their strength and balance so they can stay more active. The booklet also features photos of several Southeast Alaska residents.