Falls resulting in fracture of the hip in older people are a major health problem worldwide. Flooring that is slippery and unsuitable footwear are other major factors contributing to the onset of fractures in the home. Building design should incorporate measures to minimize the risk of falls.
The objective of this study was to test the impact absorption of flooring and underlay materials for the purposes of reducing hip fractures in older people.
A mechanical rig was constructed to test the impact properties of flooring materials (carpet, vinyl, and underlays) attached to the flat underneath surface of the weight carrier, which was dropped onto a hip model fixed to the floor.
Impact testing on current conventional underlays under carpets, regardless of the composition and construction of the carpet, suggest they offer poor energy absorption when older people fall, and thin and thick vinyl floors are even poorer at reducing the energy that may fracture a hip in an older person. This study found that Sorbothane and PVC foam offer the best reduction, although they have to be at least 12mm thick to reduce the values to below those likely to fracture the hip from a fall. Underlays more than 15mm thick may present other problems such as limiting the traction of wheeled devices including wheelchairs or hoists. Polyurethane foams were also considered, but these were shown to not withstand repeated loading and had undesirable absorbent properties.
New materials and innovations are consistently introducing new materials into the market that were not included in this study, which limits the generalizability.