Health Day - ONLINE EDITION

Routine Errands a Risky Time for Falls by Seniors

Study suggests sidewalks, curbs may be key to keeping older pedestrians safe

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THURSDAY, July 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- For older Americans, a fall can sometimes bring serious health consequences. And a new study finds that seniors are more likely to fall while carrying out routine daily errands than when they are walking for exercise.

As the researchers noted, seniors are in a bind when it comes to walking: Frequent walking actually boosts muscle strength and balance, but studies also show that up to 63 percent of falls among older people occur while walking.

So, is it safe for seniors to take that daily recreational stroll?

To find out, a team led by Wenjun Li, of the University of Massachusetts, tracked the walking habits and rates of outdoor falls among 765 Boston-area men and women aged 70 and older.

The researchers found that people who walked mainly to do shopping and other errands suffered more falls than those who walked for recreation. They also found that people in poorer neighborhoods walked primarily to do errands, not for exercise.

Seniors in poorer neighborhoods also had higher rates of falls on sidewalks, streets and curbs. That's important, the authors wrote, because "compared with falls in recreational areas, falls on sidewalks and streets were twice as likely to result in an injury and nearly 4 times as likely to result in a serious injury that needed medical attention."

Li's team say the study has important lessons for urban planners. They advise that "when considering municipal initiatives to improve the safety of walking environments, not only recreational paths and public parks but also areas where older people shop and do other errands of necessity should be taken into account."

The the study was published online July 17 in the American Journal of Public Health.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about seniors and falls.

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