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Treat Seniors Like Gymnasts: Pad Their Floors

Advances in athletic flooring, which make it "give" upon impact, could be applied to senior residences to cushion falls & prevent fractures.

Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls?

Ultimately this flooring would be designed for old people who might fall down. A floor that "gives" is a floor that is less likely to result in a fracture when one falls on it. And falls will happen, no matter how much we do to prevent them. But retirement homes would also benefit, because the cushioned or "sprung" floors would be a major selling point, since no seniors want to fall, and everyone knows it's a risk. Maybe special floors would only be in certain areas, for starters.

Falls in retirement homes are not only traumatic for the person who has fractured her hip or back. As an ambulance arrives to take that person to the hospital, the rest of the residents and staff feel stressed too, and sometimes afraid. 

Enter resilient floors. Modern athletic facilities - from gymnastics venues to basketball arenas - use floors that "give". 

One photo shows a thick plastic mat, which would not be ideal for a walker or wheelchair, but a floor designer (I'm nowhere close) could be asked to create something that combines the mat-like cushion and, as shown in the other photo, a wooden floor with a complex system of integrated layers, including "floating floors, vapor barriers, pre-assembled cushion panels, and upper subfloor panels," - as one website describes one type of athletic floor -- all in the service of"high shock absorption."

As a practical matter, could special floors, carefully designed to cushion shock, be installed in senior residences? Of course they could. It would be expensive - but aren't broken hips expensive too? And aren't seniors as valuable as athletes?

Fall prevention is key. But falls are not exactly the problem - it's the potential damage from the fall that is. As we all know, falls can lead to severe injuries -- hip or spine fractures -- and even death. So we need to think about post-fall solutions, too, if we're going to solve the problem of severe, sometimes life-threatening injuries.

Here are some more pictures of gym floors. Note how many different ways floors can be constructed to absorb impact. 

As a former college basketball player who played on the first shock-absorbent floor installed at Stanford University's Maples Arena, I can personally attest to the fact that these floors literally bend when someone lands on them. 

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I'd want to talk with staff at senior residences to see what they think of this idea. I have some connections. I could also consult a geriatric social worker for her input. Since I'm not a floor designer, I'd need to partner with others to see what prototypes might be made. Maybe we could test them on people in martial arts classes, since these people know how to fall and tend to have high physical intelligence - and could report back on the physical impact of different surfaces.

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

For starters, does anyone know if anything like this has been tested? I'm focused on assisted living-type environments rather than personal homes because it would be more cost-effective. But maybe someone has experimented with different flooring options (or even grass?) in a private home.

How long has your idea existed?

  • 0-3 months

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

For 5 years I've served as VP for Innovation at ASAE. We use design thinking to develop products & help other associations do so too. Before, I had an innovative career as an author specializing in the empowerment of women though sports. I'm a fit 60-yr old w/ osteoporosis & a 93-year-old mother.


Join the conversation:

Photo of An Old Friend

Hello Mariah,
i was interested to see your idea because I am going to remodel my home and am thinking of installing rubber flooring in the bathroom. I also considered the rubber flooring and exercise mats at my gym (Equinox). Their rubber flooring is similar to that supercell stuff mentioned in another comment. However, the downside is that dark floors can be difficult to walk on when visually impaired.

BTW, 25 years ago, my husband actually installed a wood shock-absorbent floor in his old house for his then-wife, who was a dancer. It cost him $20k for one room.

Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson

Hi MJ, You raise some good points - that special floors can be expensive, and that such things as vision impairments may also need to be taken into account. I was initially thinking of institutional settings, where cost can be offset by the quantity of people using the space over time. Some of these options may be cost-prohibitive or impractical at this point in a private home. Glad you're exploring it, though, and adding your thoughts and experiences to this thread. Thank you!

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