Ice is dangerous regardless of age. From slippery paths to black ice (transparent ice you cannot see), falls on ice can happen quickly, and they can be dangerous. Falling on ice can lead to cuts and bruising, traumatic brain injuries, broken bones, and torn ligaments and muscles. Falls on ice can even lead to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among adults age 65 and older. While anyone can fall, even a minor fall can become increasingly dangerous for older adults because of existing frailty, slower recovery time, medical complications, or pre-existing disabilities. The quality of life for an older adult who falls can change in seconds. To help prevent falls related to ice, it is important to:

  • Assess the risk of going out.
  • Shovel snow before ice can form, even if that means shoveling multiple times.
  • Apply salt to help melt the snow.
  • Use gravel or sand to help break down the ice.
  • Allow more time for careful winter walking.
  • Wear proper footwear that provides good traction like those with a flat, non-slip rubber sole with grooves. (Ice cleats can give extra traction, but you should not wear them inside.) 
  • Plan ahead when you know a storm is coming (run important errands such as the grocery store or pharmacy, in advance).
  • Keep the inside of the house safe by wiping melted snow in entryways, shaking off mats, and removing wet shoes.
  • Stay active. Physical activity can help with balance and fall prevention.

The easiest way to avoid falling on ice is to stay indoors! Do not be afraid to ask for help. Ask a family member or neighbor to shovel the driveway and walkways. Reschedule an appointment if it is not urgent. If you must go out, wear proper footwear AND clothing (jacket, hat, mittens, etc.) to help protect yourself in case you do fall or become stranded. If you are walking when it is icy, try the “penguin walk” or shuffle. This means that steps should be short and slow, and your center of gravity should be over your feet. Keep your gloved hands at the sides of your body and never in your pockets. It is also helpful to stay on shoveled paths and to carry kitty litter or sand with you to scatter.

If you or someone you are with falls on the ice, try not to panic. Stay put as you assess the fall and possible injury. Standing too quickly can cause added injury or another fall on the ice. If you are with someone who falls, check for visible injuries, ask the person how they feel and if they are experiencing any pain or symptoms. It is common for someone who has fallen to initially understate their level of pain or discomfort. They may not even feel anything right away because of adrenalin. If the fall is severe, call an ambulance or health-care provider. In less severe situations, you may be able to drive the person to a clinic. 

Ice is dangerous, and you should avoid it. In cases where you must go out, be proactive to protect yourself or a loved one from a fall.

Reference: Schiltz, R. (2022). Senior Safety Advice. How to Keep Elderly from Slipping on Ice. Retrieved

Source: Amy F. Kostelic, Associate Extension Professor for Adult Development and Aging

Social media post: Older adults should take special care when it’s cold and icy outside. There is a greater chance of falling and hurting yourself. We have some tips for staying on your feet when winter turns icy.