Study finds need for educating older adults on outdoor fall prevention

May 19, 2017, New York University

Many older adults have fallen outdoors but lack an understanding of the risks for falling and how to prevent them, warranting efforts for outdoor fall prevention, finds a new study by New York University researchers.

"Despite their frequency, receive little attention when it comes to education and prevention," said Tracy Chippendale, assistant professor of occupational therapy at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and the study's lead author.

The findings of this study, published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, are being used to develop and pilot an outdoor fall prevention program, which is currently underway in New York City.

Approximately 30 percent of age 65 and older fall each year, with serious consequences for both the individual and the health care system. Although have been well studied, the focus has been on indoor rather than outdoor falls. Yet, research shows that 48 percent of the most recent falls among older adults and up to 72 percent among middle aged adults occur outdoors.

Although there are similarities in the risk factors for falling indoors and outdoors, such as depression, fall history, and use of certain medications, there are also a number of differences. People who fall outdoors are more likely to be male, younger, active, and fast walkers.

In addition to physical injuries such as open wounds, head injuries, and fractures, outdoor falls can have emotional consequences, including fear and anxiety about falling again.

This study sought to explore the experiences and fall prevention knowledge of older adults living in the community, not in housing for seniors. Using random digit telephone dialing, the researchers surveyed 120 adults age 55 and older across the five boroughs of New York City.

A high proportion of adults surveyed - 85 people or 71 percent - had fallen outdoors in their adult years. Of those who had experienced an outdoor fall, 28 had minor injuries such as scrapes and bruises, 18 had moderate injuries with prolonged pain or soreness, and nine had severe injuries such as fractures, rotator cuff injuries, or injuries requiring stitches or surgery.

Beyond physical injuries, participants commonly described having an emotional response to a fall, including fear of falling again or embarrassment, which may affect one's willingness to disclose a fall or seek medical attention.

The participants attributed their falls to a number of causes. Environmental factors included objects (e.g. metal post, branch, stones), surface conditions (e.g. slippery or uneven), and stairs, particularly at entranceways. A number of people surveyed reported falls caused by otherwise healthy activities such as exercising or walking a dog. Many participants attributed falls in part to their own practices, such as wearing ill-fitting or inappropriate shoes, not paying attention, or walking too fast.

In addition, those surveyed frequently described multiple factors that contributed to their fall, such as rushing on an icy surface or being distracted on an uneven surface.

Overall, the survey revealed a number of unmet education and training needs for outdoor fall prevention among community-dwelling older adults. For example, should be educated on the importance of wearing single vision glasses and proper footwear, which have been flagged as common causes for falls. They should also be educated on the risks associated with recreation areas and parking lots or garages, since these have been shown to be common fall locations.

Adults could also benefit from training on fall prevention strategies, including safety during routine activities such as carrying items on uneven surfaces, going up and down stairs, and opening or closing doors. Education around safe outdoor walking strategies (e.g. avoiding distractions, navigating sloped and uneven surfaces, and walking slower) would also be beneficial.

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

Explore further: Study finds differences in older adults who fall indoors versus outdoors

Related Stories

Study finds differences in older adults who fall indoors versus outdoors

July 20, 2016
Falling can have serious consequences for older adults, including a loss of function and increased risk of institutionalization. According to a new study by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, ...

Slow processing speed predicts falls in elderly

April 20, 2017
(HealthDay)—Slow processing speed predicts future falls in older adults with a history of falls, according to a study published online April 8 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Adjusting meds may reduce fall risk in older adults

May 1, 2017
Simply adjusting the dose of an older adult's psychiatric medication could reduce their risk of falling, a new University of Michigan study suggests.

Don't let youth trip you; more than 50 percent young adults fall, trip

March 9, 2016
Young adults fall more frequently than expected, and most falls occur during everyday activities such walking and talking, according to new research from Purdue University.

Falls are taking a huge and rising toll on elderly brains

March 16, 2017
Elderly people are suffering concussions and other brain injuries from falls at what appear to be unprecedented rates, according to a new report from U.S. government researchers.

Recommended for you

Air pollution may shorten telomeres in newborns

January 24, 2018
A study conducted before and after the 2004 closure of a coal-burning power plant in Tongliang, China, found children born before the closure had shorter telomeres than those conceived and born after the plant stopped polluting ...

Number of older people with four or more diseases will double by 2035, say researchers

January 23, 2018
A study published today in Age and Ageing, the scientific journal of the British Geriatrics Society, reports that the number of older people diagnosed with four or more diseases will double between 2015 and 2035. A third ...

Placental accumulation of flame retardant chemical alters serotonin production in rats

January 22, 2018
A North Carolina State University-led research team has shown a connection between exposure to a widely used flame retardant chemical mixture and disruption of normal placental function in rats, leading to altered production ...

Marijuana use does not lower chances of getting pregnant

January 22, 2018
Marijuana use—by either men or women—does not appear to lower a couple's chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.