Diane Atwood, the author, as a child. Credit: Courtesy of Diane Atwood

When I was a child, my head was often in the clouds — still a favorite place! I can hear my mother’s voice reminding me, “Watch where you’re going, Diane.”

With all the ice we’ve experienced lately and the ruts that have formed because of melting and refreezing, my mother’s warning takes on a more urgent quality. I’m not your mother, but I feel compelled to issue the same warning I used to get because these past few weeks I have heard one harrowing story after another.

The scariest one for me was when my husband called me from his car (hands-free) on a recent evening to let me know he’d be home in about a minute, and then abruptly disconnected.

He had rounded a slight curve and hit a small patch of black ice. Up until that moment the roads had all been dry. His car started to fishtail, but he quickly got it under control. Thank goodness because there was a car in the other lane coming toward him. If they had collided, he might not be sitting here next to me retelling his story.

There’s my friend Rita, in her late 70s, who is an avid walker in all kinds of weather and conditions. In fact, she inspires people of all ages to remain active.

One of her fitness goals this year is to walk, hike or run an average of 5 miles a day between Jan. 1 and March 21 and raise lots of money for the Good Shepherd Food Bank. She usually wears grippers and uses poles, but a few weeks ago she was simply walking back from having coffee with a friend when she slipped on the ice.

She said in an email message that she just got hit close to home.

Rita Losee of Bath participates in the Lobster Dip, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Maine, on a recent New Year’s Day. Credit: Courtesy of Diane Atwood

The subject line was: “Have Your Plans Ever Gone Sideways?”

“Well, Yah!” she said. “[F]inding my body summarily dashed to the frozen ground in what I am now terming my Black Ice Tango. Getting down was effortless. Moving in the almost two weeks since then has been painful, slow, and awkward. One of the most valuable insights from this experience has been I did not end up with a broken anything from this hard fall. Had I not had such strong bones surrounded by good strong muscles, it is highly likely I would be writing this from a rehab facility, not my home.”

Several other people I know have slipped on the ice recently. Walking in downtown Portland a week or so ago, I saw a woman fight with all her might to stay upright on a patch of ice. She succeeded, and I made sure to avoid the spot at all costs.

This time of year ice may be the biggest culprit, but it’s not the only thing that can take you down.

I’m living proof because one year ago my foot tangled with my vacuum cleaner hose, and I ended up with a dislocated, fractured shoulder. It was a freak accident that sent me hurtling into a heavy old armoire, and it happened so fast I didn’t have time to think. Thanks to yoga, physical therapy and a positive attitude, I have full mobility. I also have a heightened awareness of the risks associated with falls.

With age, our risk of falling increases, as does our fear of falling. That’s why it’s important to stay as active, healthy and strong as possible.

Here are common risk factors and things that can lead to a bad fall:

— Poor eyesight

— Poor hearing

— Poor reflexes

— Diabetes

— Thyroid issues

— Heart disease

— Weak muscles

— Unsteadiness or poor balance

— Postural hypotension (blood pressure drops when you go from sitting or lying down to standing)

— Foot problems

— Confusion

— Medications

— Safety hazards, such as ice, vacuum cleaner hoses, slippery rugs, lack of handrails, uneven surfaces and the wrong kind of shoes

Since my fall, I have tried to cultivate a new attitude about being careful. If I see something in my way, I remove it. Immediately. I do not want any more falls.

And I guess we all have to remember my mother’s warning: Watch where you’re going, (insert your name here)!

Diane Atwood has been sharing stories about health and wellness for more than 30 years, first as a reporter on WCSH6 and then as the marketing and public relations manager for Northern Light Mercy Hospital....