A test of compliant flooring found it did not provide enough impact force reduction to reduce fall-related injuries in a long-term care home.

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Compliant flooring not the answer to preventing fall-related injuries

July 03, 2019
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By Diane Mar-Nicolle

A team of SFU scientists and patient-safety experts from the Fraser Health Authority have been working to prevent a serious health concern for older adults in long-term care: injuries sustained from falls.

Studies using compliant (low stiffness) flooring in laboratory settings, and preliminary studies in clinical settings, showed promising results in preventing fall-related injuries. The team was anxious to find out whether a more rigorous, multi-year study in a real-world setting would support the same conclusion.

The Flooring for Injury Prevention (FLIP) Study saw 150 resident bedrooms at a long-term care home in Burnaby randomly assigned to renovation and installation of either one-inch-thick compliant flooring or one-inch-thick rigid flooring, both covered with identical hospital-grade vinyl.

During simulated falls in the laboratory. the compliant flooring selected for the study reduced impact forces to the hip by about 35 per cent and to the head by about 70 per cent, Yet after analyzing the results of their four-year randomized trial, the team discovered that compliant flooring was not the effective solution they had hoped for.

The one-inch thick compliant flooring underlay.

Lead investigator Dawn Mackey says she was surprised by the results.

“It appears that the impact force reduction provided by the compliant flooring product we studied simply was not large enough to reduce the frequency of fall-related injuries that we could measure in long-term care residents' bedrooms.”

The team’s ability to measure injuries may have been impacted by residents wearing hip protectors, which are effective at preventing hip fractures during falls. Hip protectors were worn in more than 40 per cent of falls, resulting in only four hip fractures.

“It may also have been difficult to measure the effect of compliant flooring on concussion,” adds co-author Stephen Robinovitch, of SFU’s Mobility and Injury Prevention Lab, “because of the challenges in separating the effects of concussion from baseline dementia, which was present in 55 per cent of residents.”

A resident's bedroom.

The team expects that newer flooring technologies that provide greater reduction in impact force may be effective. They also speculate that it may be useful to pad other surfaces in resident bedrooms in addition to the ground, including walls and edges of furniture.

The study was published in PLOS Medicine.