Winter’s long, dark nights, snow and cold, and treacherous driving and walking can be a challenge for anybody. But for below-the-knee amputees, who can’t feel one -- or both -- lower limbs, navigating snow and ice can be an even greater challenge. Add to this that many amputees are older adults for whom a fall can be especially dangerous, and the risks of winter weather are indeed significant. As Maine’s premier prosthetic care provider, AtlanticProCare is in a unique position to provide advice on both winter and prosthetics.
So here are our top five tips for amputees on how to handle the challenges of winter:
Put cleats or grips on your shoes. For those with lower limb loss, it’s hard to gauge how much traction you actually have on a slippery surface. A good, slip-on cleat or grip can be a lifesaver. YakTrax offers a great option.
Be a snow aficionado. The Aleuts have 50 words for snow. While here in New England, we don’t need to parse our snow that finely, it can still help you to know how different types of snow can affect your gait. Stomping on one type of snow for extra traction could get you stuck in other snow conditions. On slick, tightly packed snow, carefully distribute your weight between heel and toe and keep a good, firm base beneath you for balance. Lift your legs for each step when in deep snow to avoid a fall that could result from dragging your limb through the drifts.
Don’t trust treated surfaces. Even an area that looks safe -- that has been treated with sand or rock salt or ash to remove ice and snow -- can be treacherous for amputees. ANYTHING that comes between your prosthesis and a firm, stable surface has the potential to throw you off balance. Step carefully, and if you can, use extra support (see #4).
Don’t depend on your prosthesis alone. Ever notice how drivers seem to forget how to drive in snow? The same thing can happen to amputees. You may have total confidence in your prosthesis and your own abilities in spring, summer, and fall, but come winter, suddenly everything changes. So it can’t hurt to use some additional support. A cane, crutch or walker such as the popular HurryCane All-Terrain Cane can add a little extra stability, which may be especially important for bilateral amputees.
Know what do if you do fall. Assuming you have taken only a light tumble and can still move without pain, roll over onto your stomach and use your hands or forearms to support you. If you’re a unilateral lower limb amputee, use your whole leg to balance and raise yourself. If you’re a bilateral amputee, balance on your knees and raise yourself to a standing position. To see an example of this maneuver, click here
Finally, be careful about the time you spend in the cold. Extreme cold is particularly dangerous for the elderly, who feel changes in temperature less, and whose slower metabolisms often create less body heat. For more on what do in extreme cold (and other disasters), check out this article from the Amputee Coalition.