Minimizing injuries from the ground up

September 8, 2021

One-third of older Canadians fall each year, and most of them fall more than once. How they land could mean the difference between a broken hip or a  few bumps and scrapes. When a fall leads to a fracture or other serious injury, it can be life-changing. 

While there is a lot of research looking into fall prevention, Andrew Laing, RIA  research scientist and Kinesiology and Health Studies associate professor at the University of Waterloo, wanted to know what could be done at the moment of impact. His goal? Minimize fall-related injuries. 

“When hospitalization from a fall is required, it often leads to other health complications and it is quite expensive,”  said Laing, director of the Injury  Biomechanics and Aging Laboratory.  “Life isn’t the same after a bad fall.” 

That’s why Laing is exploring safety flooring for long-term care and retirement homes. “It’s a new type of flooring that is flexible enough to absorb the impact of falls, but also rigid enough to perform routine daily tasks on,” he explained. This innovative research looks at balance control and walkability on the new floors, and how they respond to impact. 

Along with Laing, a biomechanist,  it took a multi-disciplinary team and many consultations to bring the project to where it is today. The project combines Laing’s expertise with knowledge from a health economist, epidemiologist, and team members from long-term care homes to make the flooring as safe and functional as possible. 

Each year, hundreds of thousands of falls occur in long-term care homes in  Canada. Interestingly, falls occur most often in bathrooms and bedrooms compared to living rooms, hallways and common areas. When determining where to install safety flooring, the team also considers an individual resident’s needs.  

Using this knowledge and almost  20 years of research, development and trials, the safety flooring is now installed in five suites at the Village at University Gates, a retirement home connected to the RIA building.  Residents and family members will provide feedback and their perspective later this year as part of the project evaluation. Laing is also working on building relationships with the long-term care and commercial industries to bring safety flooring into more homes and reduce significant injuries for more  Canadians. 

“I’m hopeful that we will reduce fall-related injuries, decrease health system costs, and ultimately improve quality of life.”