New medical research shows safer flooring could cut hip fractures

04/27/04

Elderly people living in residential homes are at significantly lower risk of hip fracture if they fall on carpeted wooden floors than onto any other type of flooring, says new research from the University of Warwick in a recently published report.

Changing floor coverings could have a real impact on the number of hip fractures suffered by the elderly. The study from Warwick's Centre for Primary Healthcare Studies and the University of Edinburgh, published in May's edition of the journal Age and Ageing, reveals results of a two-year study.

The research suggests that if uncarpeted concrete flooring was replaced with carpeted wooden surfaces throughout all residential homes the risk of elderly residents breaking a hip in a fall could drop by up to 80%.

However, given that many floors in homes already have carpeted floors, the figure for preventing fractures by having wooden floors instead of concrete underlays is closer to 26.8%.

The study focused on 6,641 falls and 222 fractures, which took place in 34 residential care homes for older people. They also developed equipment that could simulate and measure the peak impact force during a fall by a person of average height and weight. Researchers discovered that carpeted wooden floors were associated with the lowest number of fractures and concrete floors carried the greatest risk for fracture. Also, in comparison with wooden sub-floors, concrete sub-floors were associated with a much higher risk of fracture.

Professor Lamb, one of the report authors from the University of Warwick, said: "The impact of force was significantly lower on carpeted wooded floors, which were associated with the lowest number of fractures. From the research we can conclude that the risk of breaking a hip in a fall would be reduced by over 25% if carpets were laid on uncarpeted wooden floors in residential homes. A fall for the elderly can have serious consequences and there is a need to help cushion floors as much as possible."

She added: "The possible implications of our findings are considerable. In 1990, there were an estimated 1.7 million hip fractures world-wide and this figure is expected to rise to 6.3 million by 2050. Residents of homes are typically frail and many have a tendency to falls. In designing safer environments for older people, the type of floor should be chosen to minimise the risk of fracture. This may result in a major reduction in fractures in the elderly."

For more information contact: Jenny Murray, Communications Office, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476-57-4255, Mobile: 07876-21-7740 or Professor Sallie Lamb, Centre for Primary Healthcare Studies, University of Warwick, Tel: 01865-85-7646, Email: S.Lamb@warwick.ac.uk.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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