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SPOTLIGHT
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Slick advice: Stay on your feet this winter

Published on -12/5/2012, 8:39 AM

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The wonderful month of December is upon us. This holiday month brings us many gifts. Many of us will be provided opportunities to see old friends and perhaps spend extended time with family.

This holiday month presents us with many rewards and a few challenges as well. One of those challenges is trying to stay upright with the snow and ice covered walkways that abound at our feet. Falls at any age, at the very least, are embarrassing for the fallen victim. When I have wiped-out on an ice-covered walkway, it never fails that one of my overly humorous friends have seen me and offered a hearty laugh and a finger-point in my direction. However, after the laughs clear a fall is no laughing matter. The event of a fall potentially can change someone's life due to resulting injury -- especially in the elderly.

In 2010, the overall rate of nonfatal fall injury episodes for which a health-care professional was contacted was 43 per 1,000. Those 75 years or older had the highest rate (115). All who sustain injury secondary to a fall also might face a period of time off from work resulting in lost wages, an extensive rehabilitation and possible surgical intervention such as hip replacement. Considering these potential ill effects from a fall, one can see the severity of such a topic.

The majority of fractures sustained by the elderly in America are due to falls. Twenty percent to 30 percent of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures or head trauma. The fall sustained by these folks is definitely a life-changing event.

With complications such as these, many require an admission into the emergency room for closer evaluation. After an ER evaluation, the person could require admission to the hospital and possible surgery.

Considering the potential for adverse outcomes, what can be done to prevent such an event?

The first step of safety is to consider your surroundings prior to heading out to your destination. First, let's consider your footwear. Wearing 6-inch heels in the middle of winter in Kansas might not be your best bet for a safe stroll down Main Street. However, a pair of warm boots with good tread on them would be considered a great choice. For the ladies, you might not get that additional 6 inches in height, but you certainly improved your chances getting to your destination without rolling an ankle. Proper footwear during these snow covered times cannot be underscored enough.

With the terrain getting slicker throughout the winter months, having footwear that provides a solid foundation with good tread is ideal.

If you require a cane or walking device be sure to pack that along with you prior to heading out to your destination. The manufacturers of such gait-assisting devices are becoming more creative in providing such devices that can be easily stowed. Whether a cane or walker you may be pleasantly surprised how some of the newer devises can fold up and be packed away during the non-walking parts of your journey.

For some, the activity of walking might be much more challenging. This challenge could be due to a neurological disorder (multiple sclerosis, recent or previous stroke, etc.), musculoskeletal complication (global weakness, exercise intolerance, etc.), or cardiovascular (congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc.) When an individual is faced with one or more of these medical conditions, the task of walking can be quite disheartening. Fortunately, there are medical professionals who can lend a helping hand.

If you, a loved one or friend has difficulty with ambulation due to any of these medical issues or any other issues, consider a physical therapy evaluation. Physical therapists and physical therapy assistants are experts in their field.

After an evaluation, they can assist the person with strength training, improve range of motion, balance improvement and gait retraining. These medical professionals perform many critical tasks to help their patients regain their independence, as well as improve overall outcomes. Also, consider getting a handicapped placard. This will allow the individual to use handicapped parking stalls. Forms for these can be filled out and provided by your physician or health care provider.

Before heading out to your destination, be cognizant of current weather conditions and dress accordingly. If you require a gait-assisting device, be sure not to leave it behind.

December is a magical month that provides many gifts. Extended time with family and friends offers much happiness and rejuvenates the soul. For the reader, I wish a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year.

As with all medical conditions, always feel free to contact your physician or health care provider with any questions or concerns.

Dr. Charles Weintz, formerly of Hays, is author of "Healthy Headlines." He is a family physician at Stanton County Family Practice.

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