Health Topics Information

A fall may result in a visit to emergency room

A fall may result in a visit to emergency room

With winter in full swing, the rate of visits to urgent care and the emergency department due to falls is on the rise. Falls tend to increase during the winter months, especially with wet, cold and slippery conditions. Falls also occur more frequently around the holidays when people are more active and may be unfamiliar with their surroundings.

About half of all falls occur at home. The incidence of falls increases after age 50 and gradually rises with age, as does the risk for severe injuries and mortality. Almost half of individuals 65 and older end up going to a nursing home or rehabilitation facility after a fall-related injury. No matter what your age, you can reduce your risk for falls by improving your strength, balance and flexibility, and by taking steps to make you stay safe this winter.

Here are some winter safety tips:

  • Keep sidewalks and steps free of snow and ice
  • Remove small throw rugs
  • Keep items you use frequently within reach to avoid the need to use a step stool
  • Improve lighting in the home
  • Use medical alert bracelets for the elderly
  • Remove clutter that could easily be tripped over in places where you walk
  • Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower
  • Wear shoes that provide good support and have thin, non-slip soles

Exercise regularly. Exercise that includes a combination of weight lifting and cardio exercises can reduce the incidence of falls by making you stronger and more coordinated. A regular physical activity regimen is essential to improving and maintaining strength, flexibility and balance to prevent falls.

It is also important to review your medications. Falls are often an indication of other underlying conditions such as gait or balance problems that may be related to medications. Some medicines or certain combinations of medicines can interact adversely and cause drowsiness or lightheadedness.

So when should you go to Urgent Care or the Emergency Department if you happen to fall? If you have any concerns, it is always a good idea to get medical treatment. Anyone who has a condition like osteoporosis that puts them at a higher risk for fracture should also go seek treatment right away.

The following symptoms are reasons to seek treatment immediately:

  • Significant amount of pain or swelling
  • Limited motion of a limb
  • Any changes in alertness or mental status, headaches, dizziness or visual changes
  • Loss of sensation or movement in a limb

John Lewis, MD


(John Lewis, MD, is an Emergency Medicine physician at CHI St. Alexius Health Emergency & Trauma Center.)