Today, there’s almost a crusade taking place to decrease the risk of concussion in hockey, football and other sports. But what is the risk of other injuries? A study, published in the issue of JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, says you do not have to participate in high-octane sports to be injured. The report shows that facial fractures among older adults are on the rise. And taking arsenic in some activities would seem to be a safer option for some seniors.
Researchers, at Wayne State University in Detroit, evaluated national emergency room statistics and discovered an interesting trend. During a five-year period 20,500 adults ages 55 and older suffered facial fractures. In fact, the number of these injuries had increased 45 percent over the preceding five years.
The majority of those injured were men. They’re more likely to engage in higher-risk activities. For example, 35 percent of males broke a facial bone while cycling, and 20 percent while playing team sports. On the other hand, 15 percent of women suffered a facial injury while cycling.
What surprised me was the number of women who were treated for broken bones in the face by activities we normally consider not hazardous. For instance, women received the majority of their injuries while walking Fido! More amazing, 15 percent were injured while gardening, and 7 percent fell victim at the gym. It appears that some days it’s safer to stay in bed!
Recently, at a family gathering of my children, I suggested that getting around downtown Toronto in a car was becoming more hazardous. So I suggested it was time to go back to a bicycle. I could see immediately the horror on their faces. Their reaction was swift, namely “Dad, don’t do it. Take a cab.”
This was sound advice after reading the Wayne State report. It stated that cycling activity was responsible for 27 percent of combined facial injuries in both sexes. Then to drive home the point, it stressed that the most dangerous ages for getting on a bicycle were between 55 to 64 years of age. This meant that at my age, taking arsenic would provide a better chance of survival.
Other activities that made the list for facial injuries included team sports such as baseball, 15 percent; jogging, 5 percent; and golfing, 3 percent.
What’s the message? Before you think you’re 16 again, consider the consequences of breaking your nose, eye socket or jaw. These injuries may affect your ability to talk, breathe and swallow. They may change the normal alignment of teeth, or cause blurred or double vision. In fact, a severe injury to the eye socket can lead to blindness. And, for all these injuries, pain and facial deformity must be considered.
However, in spite of this report, you must not become inactive. We all know that becoming couch potatoes is a one-way street to obesity, diabetes and a host of other problems.
Keep in mind that normal aging affects balance, muscle strength and depth perception, and slows reflexes. So use a little extra care when active to prevent needless injury.
If you cycle, wear a helmet. Equally important, make sure that when sitting on a bicycle your feet touch the ground. And if you’re cycling in a large city, remember that drivers have difficulty seeing you on their right side.
If you’re jogging, use well-fitting rubber-soled sneakers or shoes. Don’t try to break the 1-minute mile and end up tripping. And if possible, there’s less chance of falling on uneven paths with a walking stick.
What about golf? It must be obvious to everyone that a major error is standing close to someone who is swinging a golf club. Yet every year facial injuries continue to occur. Many years ago this happened to my own young daughter. I ended up stitching up her injury when no other doctors were available at the hospital.
And just in case you’re interested, my taxicab bills have escalated this year. Prevention is safer.
Dr. Ken Walker (Gifford-Jones) is a graduate of the University of Toronto and The Harvard Medical School. He trained in general surgery at the Strong Memorial Hospital, University of Rochester, Montreal General Hospital, McGill University and in Gynecology at Harvard. He has also been a general practitioner, ship’s surgeon and hotel doctor. See www.docgiff.com for past columns. For comments: firstname.lastname@example.org