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Potholes, cracked sidewalks = more falls

September 9, 2008 |  5:00 pm

It's the infrastructure, stupid. No one really knows how many potholes there are on the nation's roadways, but one breathtaking measure is that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Vallariagosa, back in March, was on hand, overseeing the filling of pothole No. 800,000 since he took office in 2005, according to a Road Sage column in the Los Angeles Times.

Cracks1 Cracked sidewalks and broken curbs? No one is counting those either. But a research team at the University of Michigan found that crumbling cement and broken asphalt are more than just eyesores. They're mobility hazards, and for older people and people with disabilities, they quadruple the chance of a disabling fall.

They surveyed about 1,200 men and women 45 and older living in a neighborhood in Chicago, asking them about ease or difficulty in walking the blocks around their homes. Their results were published in the September issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. The researchers also checked out the neighborhood and found that more than 60% of the residential blocks had some or many potholes, cracked sidewalks and broken curbs. The older the resident interviewed, the greater the likelihood of tripping and falling while out for a healthy constitutional.

It's not so much age or physical limitations that limit mobility, lead author Philippa Clarke, social epidemiologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, says in a press release. It's the environment.

"Just improving sidewalks, streets and curbs could postpone and maybe even prevent disability in groups at high risks," she says.

--Susan Brink

Photo: A cracked, uneven sidewalk along Cabanas Avenue in Tujunga in 2006. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times