SFU prof testing softer flooring for seniors

A Simon Fraser University professor is teaming up with a local seniors’ home to see if softer flooring helps reduce injuries from falls, a leading cause of death among elderly adults.

Stephen Robinovitch, an SFU professor in the School of Engineering Science, is working with Burnaby’s New Vista Care Home, where his team has installed “compliant” flooring in half of the care centre’s 150 units for seniors.

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“We wouldn’t do the trial unless we expected to see the difference,” Robinovitch told the Burnaby NOW. “We’ll know by the results we hope that we will see reductions in injuries due to falls.”

Compliant flooring is the term Robinovitch uses for softer flooring, similar to the bouncy surface found on some newer playgrounds. Robinovitch thinks the flooring could be used in places for older adults, to help reduce injuries sustained from falls – places like long-term care facilities, hospitals, geriatric wards and seniors’ centres.

At New Vista, half of the bedrooms have softer, compliant floors, while the other half have control flooring. The clinical trial should be complete in 2017, and Robinovitch is also hoping to gather information on the costs of treating seniors injured in falls to analyze a cost-benefit analysis. The hypothesis is there may be an opportunity for government to save money by installing these floors and reducing the costs of treating injuries sustained on harder floors. The cost of treating seniors falls is $3 billion per year in Canada, and falling is the sixth most common cause of death in seniors, according to the Fraser Health Authority.

Fabio Feldman, the Fraser Health Authority’s “fall guru” and fellow SFU professor Dawn Mackey are both working with Robinovitch on the study. No one from New Vista was available to comment by deadline.

But softer flooring isn’t the only thing Robinovitch is interested in when it comes to researching falls in older adults, something he’s been researching for 20 years. He’s also doing work on wearable sensors that can detect a fall and alert medics.

“Beyond that, we’re working on augmenting capabilities of sensors to monitor balance and give information on the cause of the fall, the sort of stuff that would be useful for clinicians to understand why this individual spins and falls,” Robinovitch said. 

Robinovitch is also looking at wearable hip protectors, similar to padded undergarments that are recommended in the latest guidelines for hip-protection in long-term care facilities.

His work also involves analyzing falls from video camera footage in long-term care facilities (including New Vista) to figure out why falls occur. 

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