Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

For safety's sake, throw away your throw rugs

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Throw rugs and carpets are two of the most common hazards in our homes.

Slips and trips on throw rugs and carpets, leading to falls, occur in all age groups, but become much more common, and dangerous, in people aged 60 years and beyond. Research says so, and my experience working in the emergency department backs this up.

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In fact, I will often see as many as five to 10 cases a month in which people, mostly elderly, have been injured after slipping on one kind of floor covering or another.

Which leads to the obvious question: What makes throw rugs and carpets so dangerous?

To find out, let's look at a few cases that have come into emergency over the last several months. The names are changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.

Amy, 10, liked to floor surf into her bedroom atop her ladybug throw rug. Running in for another surf, her foot landed on the rug, the ladybug shot forward and Amy tumbled backward, landing on her outstretched arm. Her broken wrist should heal nicely, and she is looking for a new sport.

Dennis, 44, entered the kitchen with a snack on his mind. He didn't notice the kitchen throw rug had been relocated to the centre of the floor. His foot landed on the rug, and it slid forward. He lost his balance, danced awkwardly, and fell hard on his backside. Dennis suffered bad bottom bruising, but he should recover well.

Shirley, 70, has several loose throw rugs scattered throughout the house. Rushing to answer the phone, her foot caught under the curled-up edge of one of the larger ones. She twisted, pitched forward, and landed heavily on her hip. She needed surgery to fix the fracture. Post-recovery, she will have an in-home safety assessment to help minimize the risk of further falls.

Albert, 85, has heart disease, atrial fibrillation, and is taking blood thinners. He gets up several times a night to use the toilet. Moving quickly, at his bladder's insistence, he didn't turn on the light in the bathroom. He tripped on the throw rug, fell against the vanity, and knocked himself unconscious. A CT scan of his head revealed bleeding on top of his brain. He required hospitalization to treat his injury, and he is likely to have a slow recovery.

So, throw rugs are dangerous because they slip and slide, taking us with them, or they snag our feet and trip us. Carpets can be dangerous if they have deep pile, or an uneven surface.

Bernice, 81, is frail, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and needs a walker to get around at home. She has older, deep pile carpet in the living room. Leaving the kitchen, the walker caught on the carpet and started to tip. Bernice did not have the strength to keep the walker upright, and both she and the walker tumbled over a table. Bernice suffered a broken shoulder on one side and a broken wrist on the other. She will require significant rehabilitation, and this injury might make returning to her home impossible.

One in three adults over 65 years of age will suffer a fall this year. Most of them will be women. More than half of these falls will involve throw rugs and carpets. About 80 per cent of our homes have loose throw rugs.

If you are going to have carpet in your home, it should have a low pile, with a tight weave.

If you must have a throw rug, it should have a non-slip backing, a non-slip underlay or be fixed in place with double-sided tape around the edges.

The best throw rug, though, is no throw rug.

Dr. Joe Wiatrowski is the medical director of emergency at the Grace Hospital.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2014 A25

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