Study: Escalator Injuries Going Up for Elderly

In what they call the first large-scale national study of escalator-related injuries to older adults, researchers led by a team at the Indiana University School of Medicine report that the rate of these injuries has doubled from 1991 to 2005. The results of the study are published in the March 2008 issue of the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

Using U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission data, the researchers found nearly 40,000 older adults were injured on escalators between 1991 and 2005. The most frequent cause of injury was a slip, trip, or fall resulting in a bruise or contusion. The most common injuries were to the lower extremities. However, most injuries were not serious. Only 8 percent of the 39,800 injured were admitted to the hospital after evaluation in an emergency department.

"Although escalators are a safe form of transportation, fall-related injuries do occur," says Joseph O'Neil, M.D., MPH, one of the study's lead researchers. "Older adults, especially those with mobility, balance or vision problems, should use caution while riding an escalator and especially when stepping on or off. They should not try to walk up or down a moving escalator, carry large objects, or wear loose shoes or clothing while riding since these appear to be associated with an increased risk of falling."

O'Neil, who is an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine and a developmental pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children, says it was not a stretch for him to turn his attention to the elderly for this study. "Older adults have many of the same mobility and balance issues as young children," he says. "We have to stop thinking of unexpected injuries as accidents, which implies that they are unpreventable. Escalator injuries, like auto crashes and many other so-called accidents, can be prevented."

Those who have difficulty walking or maintaining balance should use elevators rather than escalators, the study authors caution.

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