Spring Walker Image scaled

It just happened to my wife, an avid early morning walker. She does everything ‘right’ in terms of the ‘right’ shoes, coat, scarf, hat—you name it –she does it. The only thing she does not do is make sure the weather is perfect and receptive to activities of middle, later age, and elderly individuals. So she did her walk, it was still dark out, the temperature was below freezing and then according to her she was on the ground with lots of pain in her right arm. When she returned home clearly there was a bulge at her shoulder which the emergency room visit proved to be a fracture of her upper arm. The only silver lining was that it would be treated with a sling and immobilization and not surgery—with pain medication as required.

Spring is a wonderful time of year. The birds are chirping, the snow and ice are melting, and little shoots of green can be seen in the garden. But the eaves troughs are full of leaves and in our case pine needles, thereby interfering with proper water run-off from the usually heavy spring rains. Many walkways are uneven from the effects of ice, snow, salt, and shovelling. Many of us are chomping at the bit of “repair” and “ready the house and garden” for the full onslaught of spring. But don’t let spring cleaning become spring falling for the elderly.

A few simple tips:

Accidents are among the most common causes of injury among seniors. Climbing on ladders can be very risky especially if no one is actually holding the ladder steady. Many seniors stand on chairs, particularly in the house to change light bulbs or get things down from high cupboards. All are high potential situations for falls and injury.

Here are three key injury prevention tips:

  • Hire someone or get a younger family member to do any outside ladder work.
  • Get a small steady indoor ladder to assist in changing light bulbs and do not do it while alone in the room or house- a slip of even a few feet get be disastrous. After all, older bones do not heal easily.
  • Make sure the bathroom has safety grab bars—the surfaces of bathroom fixtures are unforgiving. Getting out of a shower or tub should not be done without access to a properly installed grab bar; the towel rack will not prevent a fall, it will likely dislodge and just pull out with even a modest amount of weight.

So be careful, be prudent and be able to enjoy the next season, which is summer!

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Dr. Michael Gordon MD, MSc, FRCPC
Dr. Michael Gordon, MD, MSc, FRCPC and FRCP(Edin) is medical program director of Palliative Care at Toronto's Baycrest Geriatric Health Care System and professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He an educator and author and is involved professional and public education. An American by birth, he is a graduate of the University of St. Andrews Medical School in Scotland. His pre-specialty training included Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology and Nuclear Medicine. He came into geriatrics in Canada where he settled after much world-wide travelling for his medical training in 1973. He came into geriatrics by a confluence of unpredictable events prior to it being recognized as a medical specialty in 1981 at which time Dr. Gordon received the first certificate in Geriatric Medicine awarded by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. His career has included a wide range of clinical activities in eldercare, which for years included responsibilities at Toronto’s Mt. Sinai Hospital. His main commitment has been to the Baycrest Geriatric Centre where he served for many years as its Vice President of Medical Services and Head of the Department of Geriatrics and Internal Medicine. He currently devotes his clinic and administrative and educational activities to Geriatric out-patient care, in-patient palliative care, medical ethics and end-of-life planning, communication and care and writing for the lay and professional press. His books include his first book Old Enough to Feel Better: A Medical Guide for Seniors which went through three editions; An Ounce of Prevention: A medical guide for a healthy and successful retirement; The Encyclopedia of Health and Aging; Parenting your Parents (two Canadian and one American edition); Brooklyn Beginnings: A Geriatrician’s Odyssey; Moments that Matter: Cases in Ethical Eldercare; and most recently Late-Stage Dementia: Promoting Comfort Compassion and Care and now the revised third edition of Parenting your Parents: Straight Talk about Aging in the Family. For more information see drmichaelgordon.com