Apartment dwellers face higher injury risk

Compared to people who live in detached or single-family homes, apartment dwellers experience substantially higher rates of injury, according to a new study from Wales.

"People who lived in apartments had twice the risk of any type of injury," said lead researcher Ronan Lyons, whose study showed that apartment residents had a twofold increase in risk from burns and scalds and a sixfold increase in poisonings.

Home injuries were exceptionally common overall, said Lyons, a professor of public health at the University of Wales Swansea. Among the 112,248 people who lived in 58,000 residences, there were 18,044 emergency department visits for injuries that occurred at home.

The study from the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine identified the risk of home injuries based on the homes' exterior structure, age and size.

By combining data from population registers, architectural surveys and emergency-department medical records, researchers determined the risk of injury for people who lived in detached houses, semi-detached houses converted to apartments, apartment buildings and row houses, all in the Neath-Port Talbot County area of South Wales.

Although a U.K. housing rating system suggests that older homes increase the risk of injury, this was not supported by study data.

Lyons said that higher poisoning rates among apartment dwellers "suggest that behavioral issues are very important in that group of residents." With young children, "virtually all of the poisonings are unintentional," he said, but for older age groups "there would have to be a detailed interview" to sort out environmental and behavioral factors.

"Home injuries are likely the result of the type of housing a person lives in and the person's behavior, motor skills and susceptibility to injury," Lyons said.

"They've done an important thing by seeing how many injuries occur within housing types," said Jon Pynoos, director of the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence in Los Angeles. Pynoos, who is not affiliated with the study, has done extensive research on home modification to prevent injury, with an emphasis on older adults.

Pynoos said more research is needed on why injuries occur, and that conducting such research may be easier in the United Kingdom. "A lot of people [in the United States] who are injured don't come to the emergency rooms. They might enter through other parts of the health care system, so that makes it hard to collect data," he said.

According to U.S. studies, unintentional injuries in the home account for 18,000 deaths and 12 million injuries requiring medical attention each year.

"It's useful, not to see the environment as completely separate, but as an element of falls and injuries," Pynoos said. "That can lead us in ways to intervene. The most effective interventions use physical activity, changes in the environment and medical risk assessment to prevent falls."

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