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      Preventing injury among the elderly in the wintertime

      Pam Burkman recently started using a walker to help her get around.

      "I depend on my walker for everything," said Burkman.

      She has a mobility problem that makes it difficult for her to keep her balance at all times or walk freely without assistance. And now in the winter months, she faces yet another challenge.

      "With the snow and the ice, it's very, very difficult," Burkman said. "You not only worry about falling, and I'm a fall risk, but you have the wheels that you have to push through the snow."

      Ice, slush and snow can make it difficult for anyone to get around, especially the elderly. As people age, muscles get weaker and many older people, especially women, have a tendency to lose their balance and fall. With slower reaction and recovery time, even a minor fall can be devastating.

      "It can be a fracture in the hip or perhaps in the leg bone, the femur; your ego is, of course, always bruised and then there's that fear of falling that happens," said Jeanette Tousignant, therapist at U.P. Rehab Services in Marquette.

      Using a cane or a walker in the wintertime can prevent you from falling. Each device has its pros and cons, so it's best to talk to a doctor or a therapist to make the right decision for you.

      At U.P. Rehab Services in Marquette, therapists work closely with patients like Pam who have balance problems. Patients go through various exercises that helps them strengthen their muscles.

      "The best thing that your physical therapist can do for you is help you really feel confident in what your abilities are and teach you how to use your assistive device correctly," Tousignant said.

      Here's some helpful tips to remember:

      -Always try to walk with someone rather than alone.

      -Avoid leaving the house if snow plows have not cleared the roads.

      -Avoid shopping at rush hour; it can make it difficult to park nearby.

      -When possible, use a shopping cart as additional support.