Icy Challenges for Seniors

Reporter: Shannon Samson

If falls are accidental, can you really prepare for one?

The answer is yes. The more fit you are, the less likely you are to lose your balance. It's advice seniors hear again and again and it applies in this case too: Use it or lose it.

In the winter, 95-year-old Myrtle Ritchie plays her keyboard and writes poems to pass the time. She'd like to get out more and go places with her friend, but doesn't because she's afraid of slipping on the ice and falling. "I ain't that scared that much, but I might and I'm not going to take the chance of getting my hip broke and having to go to an old nursing home."

Pro-Rehab's Pat Wempe says there is a way to decrease anxiety on the ice and increase balance. "Several studies have been done to show that even if you take nursing home patients and do some cardiovascular training and some very basic strength training, some simple exercises, those adverse affects of immobility can be reduced substantially."

With permission from a doctor, most older Americans can work out safely with weights to condition their large muscle groups which help them respond to a fall. Or, Wempe says, "If you're uncomfortable, something as simple as a cane, going outside the house with a cane or a walker, something that gives you extra stability is hugely helpful."

A product called "Yaktrax" is another example. Instead of having snow tires for your car, Yaktrax are like having snow tires for your feet. The metal on the bottom provides traction in the snow and ice. The only thing is, you have to remember to take them off once you're inside. If you keep them on, you're going to be more likely to fall.

Myrtle thinks the Yaktrax will make a difference for her, but she didn't want to test them out just yet. Even with more confidence on the ice, she says it's still too cold to go outside.

Seniors who are reasonably fit who continue to have problems with their balance should consider seeing an eye doctor or talk to their pharmacist about side effects of certain medications.

Anyone who wants these Yaktrax can buy them at Dick's Sporting Goods and Top Spot Outdoors in Evansville. The basic set costs $20 dollars. The active ones cost $28. I tested them and I was actually running around on the ice with them. But they are slick once you get inside, so you have to remember to take them off the minute you hit the door. Click here for more information on Yaktrax.