OBJECTIVES: To characterize nonfatal, unintentional, fall-related injuries associated with walkers and canes in older adults.
DESIGN: Surveillance data of injuries treated in hospital emergency departments (EDs), January 1, 2001, to December 31, 2006.
SETTING: The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System All Injury Program, which collects data from a nationally representative stratified probability sample of 66 U.S. hospital EDs.
PARTICIPANTS: People aged 65 and older treated in EDs for 3,932 nonfatal unintentional fall injuries and whose records indicated that a cane or a walker was involved in the fall.
MEASUREMENTS: Sex, age, whether the fall involved a cane or walker, primary diagnosis, part of the body injured, disposition, and location and circumstances of the fall.
RESULTS: An estimated 47,312 older adult fall injuries associated with walking aids were treated annually in U.S. EDs: 87.3% with walkers, 12.3% with canes, and 0.4% with both. Walkers were associated with seven times as many injuries as canes. Women's injury rates exceeded those for men (rate ratios=2.6 for walkers, 1.4 for canes.) The most prevalent injuries were fractures and contusions or abrasions. Approximately one-third of subjects were hospitalized for their injuries.
CONCLUSION: Injuries and hospital admissions for falls associated with walking aids were frequent in this highly vulnerable population. The results suggest that more research is needed to improve the design of walking aids. More information also is needed about the circumstances preceding falls, both to better understand the contributing fall risk factors and to develop specific and effective fall prevention strategies.