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Outdoor Fall Risk in Older Adults

May 22, 2017

A recent study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics explored the factors surrounding outdoor falls in older adults such as experience and practices of older adults who have fallen outdoors.

“Despite their frequency, outdoor falls receive little attention when it comes to education and prevention,” said Tracy Chippendale, PhD, assistant professor of occupational therapy at New York University and the study’s lead author in a PsychCentral article.

For the study, Dr Chippendale and coauthors surveyed older adults living in the community within the five boroughs of New York City. Researchers used random digit telephone dialing to reach participants and then used the Outdoor Falls Questionnaire as a survey instrument to examine perceived outdoor fall risks, fall prevention strategies, and participants’ experiences of falls.
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One hundred and twenty adults aged 55 and older were surveyed. Of those, 71% (85 people) had fallen outside in their adult years. Of those 85 people, 28 sustained minor injuries (scrapes or bruises), 18 had moderate injuries that included pain and soreness, and 9 had severe injuries such as fractures or injuries needing stitches/surgery. But respondents also reported emotional reactions to having fallen such as fearing future falls and the related embarrassment (doi:10.1016/j.archger.2017.04.008).

People reported that their falls occurred while participating in healthy activities like exercising. For many people, environmental factors contributed to their fall, such as stones, branches, surface conditions, or stairs. Some responders claimed their fall was their own fault, due to inappropriate shoes or lack of attention.

Based on the survey findings, researchers felt many training gaps were revealed for the prevention of outdoor falls. Education is lacking, they felt, regarding the importance of single-vision glasses, understanding fall risks in recreational spaces, and safe walking strategies, among other issues related to outdoor fall risk.

“Programs to prevent outdoor falls should include information on outdoor fall risks, action planning for the adoption of prevention behaviors, and training in safe performance of everyday activities,” said Dr Chippendale.

Authors say that the findings of this study are going to be used to develop and implement an outdoor fall prevention program.—Amanda Del Signore

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