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Elevators and the elderly don't always go together, researchers say

February 12, 2010 |  3:51 pm

An elevator can be a dangerous place for the elderly, according to researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine. An estimated 120 billion riders enter about 750,000 elevators in the United States every year, and by and large the devices represent one of the safest ways to travel. But every year, about 2,640 elevator injuries severe enough to require a visit to the emergency room occur among the elderly, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Epidemiologist Greg Steele of Indiana University and his colleagues studied CPSC data from 1990 to 2006 and concluded that many of the accidents could have been avoided. They reported in the January issue of the Journal of Trauma Injury, Infection and Critical Care that hip fracture was the most common injury for the 14% of victims who were admitted to the hospital. Elevator

Three-fourths of the injuries were to women. More than half involved slipping, tripping or falling, and about a third resulted from the elevator door closing on the individual. Injuries related to wedging a walker in the elevator door were also common. Overall, the injury rate was seven times greater in those older than 85 than in those in the 65-to-69 age group.

"Elevator injuries are not accidental, they are easily preventable," Steele said. "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. Elevator-open buttons should be made twice the size of the other elevator buttons so they are not hard to find by individuals wanting to stop the door from closing on an approaching individual."

Misalignment of the elevator floor and the floor of the hallway is also a common cause of injury because it is hard to see for older adults with vision problems. Steele recommends that bright paint be applied to the two edges to make them easier to see.

The cost of such changes would be pennies, but the savings huge, Steele said. "Slips, trips and falls often start a downward decline in an older individual's health and quality of life."

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Photo credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times 

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