Breaks and strains in winter

It goes without saying that icy roads and snowy pavements are more slippery than dry ones and even healthy people with perfect balance can come a cropper.

Most of us have broken a bone at some point. When we're younger, it usually takes a fairly major fall. We'll usually bounce back and be joking about the signatures on our plaster casts in weeks. But as you get older, your bones thin and you're more likely to break a bone (especially wrist or hip) with a fairly minor tumble. As well as being painful, this can really knock your confidence - and if you're worried about leaving the house, you can get socially isolated and find it hard to live independently. Falls are more common in winter, so take precautions to keep safe.

Beware Jack Frost

It goes without saying that icy roads and snowy pavements are more slippery than dry ones. But even healthy people with perfect balance can come a cropper. In icy weather, put on proper shoes with good grips even if you're popping out to put the rubbish out; plant your foot firmly before putting your weight down; and never, ever hurry.

For older people, staying indoors in cold weather is even more important, as they're more likely to fall and more likely to break a bone if they do. Do a stocktake of an older loved one's larder - do they have enough food to see them through a week or two at home? Stock them up with tinned foods and long life milk, and clear their drive or front step of snow regularly in case they put the milk bottles out despite your warnings.

Don't make night time a nightmare

Lots of older people fall at night. They can get confused in the dark; they may be drowsy because of sleeping tablets; and they're more likely to get light-headed if they stand up quickly from lying. Older men, who often need to get up at night to visit the toilet, can feel dizzy when they pass water. A nightlight can help them orientate themselves when they wake. Remove rugs from the bedside and make sure there are no light flexes trailing on the floor - both are easy to trip on. Advise them always to turn the light on before getting out of bed, and to sit on the edge of the bed for a couple of minutes before standing to avoid dizziness due to low blood pressure. If at all possible, avoid sleeping tablets - if necessary, speak to your GP about cutting down slowly.

Could your medicine be doing more harm than good?

All medication has side effects, but for most people it does much more good than harm. However, some medicines can increase your risk of falls, by making you drowsy, light-headed or dizzy. Common culprits include strong painkillers; antidepressants; medicine for epilepsy; sleeping tablets and some blood pressure-lowering medicines.

Dizzy spells - what's to blame?

There are lots of causes of dizzy spells. If you feel light-headed when you stand, it could be because your blood pressure has dropped. If the room spins, it could be a problem with the balance mechanisms in your inner ear. If you actually faint, causes include being dehydrated, being too hot and occasionally abnormal heart rhythms. Whatever the cause, dizziness increases your risk of falling and hurting yourself, so it's important to see your doctor.

Falls clinics

Doctors are well aware of the risks of falls, especially in older people. Having even one fall without an obvious cause puts you at higher risk of more in future. Many hospitals now run specialist falls clinics. The doctor will run through all your medication and advise on safer alternatives. There will usually be a physiotherapist and occupational therapist as part of the team. They can help with exercises to improve balance and muscle strength, and arrange for home adaptations like rails for bath and stairs. If an older loved one has had a fall, ask their GP about a referral.

With thanks to 'My Weekly' where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.