Community safety for older adults

Winter has arrived and it brings additional challenges to older adults who enjoy getting outside and going places within our community. As a senior provider within our community, we encourage our older adults to come to planned events, congregate meals and social activities. We want people to participate and to be involved, but we know that we need to remind individuals of things they can do to be safe and to avoid slips and falls while walking on snow and ice.

As we age, there are additional risks that appear as we go out in the community. We may not see all of the hazards, so we need to be more observant. Our usual pace may be too rushed, and our pace may be slower than it used to be due to age or for a medical reason, or because of a medication that we are taking. As we are walking outside and have to cross roads and intersections, it may take us longer to cross and be more difficult to see in low-light conditions. We may not hear traffic, or traffic noise may be confusing. Never cross the road in front of parked cars as we are less visible to drivers. Uneven sidewalks are a common problem to watch for and slippery areas are a concern and include slick surfaces, wet areas, snow or ice, and supermarket floors in particular.

There are strategies that can help us deal safely with these risks. First and most important, don’t ever hurry. Plan ahead so that it is not necessary to rush. If you are concerned about being bumped and jostled in crowds, consider using a shopping cart or walker when possible. Participate in an exercise program that will strengthen your legs and improve your balance.

Here at the Parker Senior Center, we offer the opportunity for older adults to be a part of Bone Builders, a FREE exercise program for those 55 and older that works against the negative effects of osteoporosis. This low impact, chair-based exercise program allows participants to go at their own pace to meet fitness needs. You may call Merrie at 852-0561 for more information on joining.

Here are a few additional safety tips for moving about safely outdoors in our community.

– Be alert to hazards such as cracks and uneven sidewalks; holes, dips and rocks when walking on grass; and snow and ice.

– Walk safely by scanning ahead as you walk; walk heel to toe; and keep your head up, chin in, and shoulders back. This helps you look ahead and walk with confidence.

– Get around the community safely by wearing sturdy shoes with a traction device on your shoe; use handrails for support; cross only at the lights and when the sign reads “walk”; make eye contact with the driver before you cross the road, even on a pedestrian crossing; and cross the road with a group.

– Be extra careful in windy weather and when there is snow or ice. Wear bright-colored clothing; if you feel unsteady, remember to ask for help – it’s a sign of strength, not weakness; take slower, smaller steps when walking over snow or ice; and keep sidewalks and driveways well shoveled.

Another suggestion to seniors, ages 60 and older, who want to improve their ability to walk and move around the community, is to participate in a fall prevention program, “Stepping On,” offered by the NDSU Extension Program. This program consists of seven 2-hour sessions of education and strength and balance exercises. Contact Ellen Bjelland, NDSU Extension Service, 857-6450 for more information and to pre-register.