April 30, 2004 -- The relatively simple act of covering a cement or wood floor with carpeting may dramatically reduce the risk of potentially disabling hip fractures among the elderly, according to a new study.
Researchers say the findings suggest that if uncarpeted wood floors were replaced with carpeted wooden surfaces in nursing homes, the risk of hip fracture resulting from a fall would be reduced by nearly 80%.
For nursing homes that already have carpeted floors, researchers say having wooden rather than concrete underlays would reduce the risk of fall-related hip fractures by an additional 29%.
Hip fractures are a major health threat among the elderly and often lead to a loss of mobility and poor overall health. An estimated 1.7 million hip fractures were reported worldwide in 1990, and that number is expected to grow to more than 6 million by 2050 because of the aging population.
Flooring Reduces Hip Fracture Risk
In the study, published in the May issue of Age and Ageing, researchers looked at the number of falls and flooring type involved over a two-year period in 34 residential nursing homes in the U.K.
A total of 6,641 falls and 222 fractures occurred during the study. Researchers found carpeted wooden floors were associated with the lowest number of hip fractures compared with wood floors, concrete floors, or carpeted concrete floors.
The risk of a hip fracture from a fall on a carpeted wood floor was 78% lower than all other floor types.
Researchers also measured the mechanical properties of the four floor types and found the average impact force was much lower on carpeted wood floors than on other types, which suggests that the flooring type absorbs much of the shock of the fall and protects the bone from breaking.
"Residents of nursing homes are typically frail and many have a tendency to fall," says researcher Sallie Lamb, of the University of Warwick, in a news release. "In designing safer environments for older people, the type of floor should be chosen to minimize the risk of fracture. This may result in a major reduction in hip fractures in the elderly."