A B.C. doctor is partnering with a flooring company to reduce the number of injuries among seniors by creating a springy rubber floor that softens the impact of a fall.

Satech, a Seattle-based company, has installed the one-inch thick floor with what it calls SmartCell technology in a Burnaby nursing home to test the product. The company says it can reduce the number of injuries from a fall by about 50 per cent.

"You can actually design floors that absorb energy and reduce impact from a fall so that you can prevent a hip fracture or a wrist fracture or even a head injury," said Dr. Fabio Feldman with Fraser Health.

Falls remain the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among Canadian seniors and between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of seniors fall each year, according to 2013 data from Statistics Canada.

The right amount of spring

Floor for seniors

The rubber floor is about one inch thick and rests on columns that give the floor a slight bounce, absorbing the force of impact when someone falls on it. (SmartCell USA/vimeo)

"When we test it in our laboratory, we can reduce the force by up to 40 per cent. And that's more than enough to prevent most injuries," said Feldman.

The biggest challenge is creating a floor that has enough give to soften the impact, but not too much that the floor becomes unstable to walk on.

But Feldman says the team has found the right balance, with most seniors in lab tests reporting they prefer the new type of flooring.

"They actually prefer doing those activities on this compliant floor because it's less painful on their joints."

Feldman says retrofitting existing long-term care facilities with this type of floor will probably cost more than twice as much as installing a regular floor.

Trial phase

Researchers are tracking the number of injuries and falls in a Burnaby nursing home that has the SmartCell floor.

"Even though we see good results in our laboratory, it has never been tested in a clinical environment yet," said Feldman.

In the test, 75 rooms are equipped with the specialized floors and 75 have regular flooring. Feldman hopes to see the number of fall injuries in the SmartCell rooms decrease by 50 per cent. 

Testing is scheduled to wrap up in the fall of 2017.

To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Springy floors safer for seniors.