NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Injuries to young people related to the use of crutches, wheelchairs and walkers are on the rise -- up an estimated 8 percent annually between 1991 and 2008, research shows.
According to Ohio researchers, the use of these “mobility aids,” while intended to help people get around, sent more than 3,000 people aged 19 or younger to the emergency room in 2008, alone.
“The annual number of injury cases increased 23 percent from 2,500 in 1991 to over 3,000 injuries in 2008. Those aren’t insignificant numbers,” senior researcher Dr. Lara McKenzie, of the Center for Injury Research and Policy, at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told Reuters Health.
“This is likely an underestimate of the number of injuries; it doesn’t account for patients who were seen by their family doctor or perhaps school nurses,” said McKenzie, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University College of Medicine.
McKenzie’s team analyzed almost two decades worth of data collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which gathers injury data from hospitals nationwide in order to provide timely data on consumer product-related injuries occurring in the US.
They found that between 1991 and 2008, an estimated 63,309 young people went to the emergency room because of an accident involving a wheelchair, walker or crutches.
Even though crutches are the number one mobility aid used by children and adolescents, 67 percent of the injuries involved wheelchairs, followed by crutches at 25 percent, and walkers at 8 percent.
Lacerations were the most common injury and most of the kids did not require a hospital stay, but 4 out of 100 injuries were serious enough to require hospital admission.
Wheelchair and walker-related injuries were more likely to result in traumatic brain injury and hospital stay than injuries involving crutches, the investigators found.
The youngest kids, those 10 years old or younger, were the most likely to suffer head injuries, while those between 11 and 19 years old were more likely to sustain injuries to ankles, knees, legs and feet. The type of device most often used in the age groups might explain the difference, the researchers noted.
Misuse of the “mobility aid” accounted for 7 percent of the injuries.
Kids will be kids and “playing with someone else’ crutches or standing up in a wheelchair were some of the things we saw,” McKenzie said.
Still, three out of four times, the injury was caused by tipping of the device or falling as the result of coming upon some sort of obstacle such as stairs, a curb, a ramp, rough ground, or icy, wet conditions.
McKenzie said it’s not clear from the data whether people were appropriately taught how to use the mobility aid, which is important. Equally important, she said, is keeping the device in good working order, practicing using it on stairs, ramps and curbs, using ramps or elevators when available, and removing hazards like throw rugs and electrical cords.
McKenzie says there’s no way of knowing how many wheelchairs, walkers and crutches are being used at any given time, but their use by children appears to be on the rise, in part because technological advances tailoring such devices for children have made them more available.
Pediatrics, published online May 24, 2010
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