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47,000 Elderly Hurt in Walker, Cane Mishaps Each Year

MONDAY June 29, 2009 -- Each year, more than 47,000 elderly Americans are treated at hospital emergency departments for injuries from falls that involve walkers and canes, according to a federal government study released Monday.

That works out to average of 129 injuries a day.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers analyzed emergency department records from 2001 to 2006. They found that most of the falls involved walkers (87 percent), and people 65 and older were seven times more likely to be injured in a walker-related fall than in a cane-related fall.

Among the other findings:

  • Women sustained 78 percent of walker-related injuries and 66 percent of cane-related injuries.
  • The risk of falling while using a walker or a cane increased with age, with the highest injury rate among those ages 85 and older.
  • Fractures were the most common type of injury suffered while using canes (40 percent) and walkers (38 percent). About a third of walker- or cane-related injuries were to the lower trunk, such as the hip or pelvis.
  • Most injuries associated with walkers and canes occurred at home -- 60 percent and 56 percent, respectively.
  • One in three people who had a walker-related fall and 28 percent of those who had a cane-related fall had to be hospitalized.

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"Walking aids are very important in helping many older adults maintain their mobility. However, it's important to make sure people use these devices safely," study lead author Judy Stevens said in a news release. "Walkers are often used by frail and vulnerable older adults; people for whom falls, if they occur, can have very serious health consequences."

In order to prevent falls among people who use walkers or canes, professionals should spend more time with clients to fit walking aids. In addition, clients should be educated about the safe use of walkers and canes, the researchers said.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains the proper use of walkers, canes and crutches.

Posted: June 2009


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