Our ugly cement front walk would probably not make my priority repair list solely on the basis of its appearance. A couple of craters large enough to create a trip and fall hazard is reason to give it attention. Spot repair would undoubtedly be less expensive than complete renovation. And filling in the holes would create a safer sidewalk. But merely filling up the gaps would not create the safest possible walkway. As a middle-aged person, I am looking ahead and thinking about injury prevention in my older years.
Falls a Serious Problem
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three adults over age 65 falls each year. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries in the elderly.
When it comes to fatal falls, forty-six percent involve traumatic brain injury. In turn, falls are the most common cause of TBI, CDC says.
Hip fractures are another serious concern. Falls are responsible for 95 percent of hip fractures.
The Learn Not to Fall website notes falls account for a quarter of hospital admissions among the elderly and 40 percent of nursing home admissions. Forty-percent of elders admitted to a nursing home after a fall never return to independent living and 25 percent die within the year.
Outdoor Falls, Sidewalk Culprits
A study reported in the American Journal of Public Health in 2006 noted falls are more likely to occur outdoors. Most outdoor falls are caused by environmental factors and take place on sidewalks, streets, and curbs. Seventy percent of outdoor falls involved forward trajectory, landing on a hard surface.
These statistics give my sidewalk problem some context. Make sidewalk changes now or risk serious injury later.
Sidewalk Surface Options
I am a klutz by nature. It’s not just the fear of falling on an uneven sidewalk surface that concerns me. There’s a greater than average risk I’d manage to fall even on a perfectly even sidewalk. The thought of landing on hard cement unnerves me. But would stone, brick, or gravel be much better?
My concerns led to some research into soft surfaces like those used in playgrounds. PolySoft is one of the materials I’ve been researching. It’s a recyclable plastic. It comes in a variety of colors and, because it’s made of chemically-bonded particles, you can mix the colors. Who thought a sidewalk could be so much fun?
What especially caught my attention with PolySoft was its promise of impact attenuation. Impact attenuation means the surface absorbs kinetic energy and serves as a crash cushion, reducing structural damage. Since the structure we’re speaking of reducing damage to is my skeleton, I’m becoming an immediate fan of this stuff.
Another option I’ve uncovered is rubber safety surfacing. It’s functionally similar to PolySoft but made of rubber granules. There are also synthetic variations available.
Apparently, I’m not alone in looking for a safer surface for my sidewalk. Home applications for safety surfacing include stairs, driveways, garage floors and pool decks, in addition to walkways, John Schroeter of Ideal Surfacing in Toronto, Ontario, explained in Concrete Décor. He also noted an increase in use of these materials in assisted living facilities.