Posted by: Bert Copple | March 2, 2010

Elevators Can Pose Hazards for Older Adults

While elevators are one of the safest forms of transportation, they can pose a real danger for the aging population. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine recently looked at the frequency, nature and opportunities for prevention of these injuries.

From 1990 to 2006, some 44,870 (about 2,640 annually) elevator-related injuries that were severe enough to require a visit to a hospital emergency department occurred in individuals 65 years and older, according to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission data. Hip fracture was the most common diagnosis for the 14 percent admitted to the hospital.

Three-fourths of these injuries involved older women. More than half of the elevator-related injuries to older adults were the result of a slip, trip or fall, and about one-third were the result of the elevator door closing on the individual. Injuries related to wedging a walker in the elevator door opening was the third most frequent category.

Researchers report that the overall injury rate from 1990 to 2006 was seven times greater in the 85 and older group than in the 65 to 69 age group.

Of all injuries among older adults, almost half were soft tissue injuries such as a sprain or bruise. The next most frequently recorded types of injury were fractures and lacerations, including finger or toe amputation.

“Elevator-related injuries are not accidental; they are easily preventable. Individuals of any age, but especially older adults, who often have vision or balance issues, should not stick an arm or leg or walker into the path of a closing elevator door,” said Greg Steele, associate professor of epidemiology in the Department of Public Health at the IU School of Medicine.

Misalignment, when the floor of the room and the floor of the elevator compartment are not perfectly even, is difficult for older adults with vision problems to see and a frequent cause of slips, trips and falls.

Steele recommends that elevator open buttons be made twice the size of other buttons so they are easy to find, and that bright paint be applied to the edge of the room floor and the edge of elevator compartment to make it easier to observe.

Older adults should be informed of the hazards associated with elevators and should use caution when entering or exiting, researchers say. CAREGivers can help educate clients about these hazards and monitor elevator safety when taking clients on outings.

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