Winter weather danger: Be careful don't fall
By Laura Bennetts, Lawrence Memorial Hospital
Icy parking lots are incredibly dangerous. Over the years I've treated a lot of people who fell on icy sidewalks or parking lots.
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Typically, the most dangerous maneuver is staying on your feet when you get out of your vehicle in an icy parking lot. Winter makes roads hazardous and walking risky. If you think ahead and prepare for driving and walking during winter, you’ll increase your chances of safely navigating winter.
If you live in snowy country, you already may have an emergency kit in the back seat of your car. You need several items within easy reach: a blanket, a bottle of water, a flashlight with extra batteries, flares, a small shovel or snow shovel and a snack. It’s also important to carry a cell phone. If you don’t have one, I would encourage you to get one to use just for emergencies, cost-free. Contact your local senior service agency to find out how you can get a recycled phone that allows you to press any button to reach the emergency services number, 911. It's best to keep the phone turned on so you can use it without difficulty when the need arises. The Senior Resource Center for Douglas County, 745 Vermont Street, can be reached at 785-842-0543.
Once you're on the road, you should drive according to road conditions and stay alert for changing conditions. Slow down to drive safely in snow and ice. And when you enter a parking lot, try to find a space in a section of the lot that has been cleared of snow and (especially) ice. Always keep an eye out for black ice, even days after the snow has been cleared.
To be fully prepared, you should:
- Dress warmly, with gloves, hat and scarf (just in case you're stranded)
- Wear supportive shoes with good tread so that the soles aren't slick
- Wear ice-walkers over your shoes
- Carry a hiking pole, walking stick, cane or walker.
As you prepare to step out of your car, look directly down at the ground. Is the surface icy or slushy? If so, don’t get out and move your vehicle to a safer spot. And if you're in a parking lot that looks like an ice rink, you can benefit from having a pair of ice-walkers over your shoes. Ice-walkers, like galoshes, fit over the sole of each shoe.
To safely put the ice-walkers over your shoes, sit down to pull them over your toe first and then stretch it over your heel. They have spikes or springs embedded in a web of stretchy rubber that secures at your toe and heel. Brand names include YakTraks and STABILicers.
When you first step down, wearing the ice-walker, you feel your foot push into the ice and soon have a feeling of traction. This allows you to rise out of your car and get your weight onto both of your feet, which decreases your chance of falling as you exit your car.
What if your car is so high that your feet don’t reach the ground when you swivel to get out? Many vans are elevated like that. It's risky to hop onto the slick ground, especially if there are several inches between your feet and the ground. To safely get out of your car or van, try the following:
- If you use a cane, start by touching the ground with your cane and then ease your weight onto your feet.
- Stabilize yourself by gripping a handle or the back of the seat and use your second hand to support yourself with a cane.
- Wear ice-walkers to ensure a safe landing when your feet touch the ground.
- Arrange, if you can, to ride in cars with lower exit points.
Planning for winter weather will help keep you active and safe. Bundle up and enjoy the fresh air. Staying active helps you remain well, strong and part of your wider community. By preparing to venture out safely, you won't become a prisoner of the weather.
Laura Bennetts is a physical therapist and clinical rehabilitation manager at LMH Health. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.