Newswise — "Falling all over" a pet usually refers to indulging or pampering a four-legged companion, but a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that many Americans, particularly the elderly, are falling over their dogs and cats literally"¦and hurting themselves. According to the CDC, more than 21,000 elderly Americans are treated in hospital emergency rooms each year for falls associated with their pet dogs and cats, and their injuries account for nearly one-fourth of all the fractures, contusions, sprains, and lacerations caused by falls associated with dogs and cats.
"Pets, particularly dogs and cats, can be wonderful companions that provide many health benefits for older adults," said Dr. Thomas A. Cavalieri, a geriatrician and the dean of the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine. "At the same time, falls are a particularly serious health hazard for the elderly. When an older person falls, there's a one-in-three chance that the result will be a fracture, which could mean an extended period of convalescence or even permanent disability or premature death."
Cavalieri noted that several studies have shown potential health benefits when older adults interact with pets. Walking a dog provides good cardiovascular exercise and having a pet in the house also appears to have a positive effect on blood pressure and stress. Pets can also ease the sense of loneliness that some elderly individuals experience, which helps to stave off bouts of depression. Some other studies have reported that individuals with Alzheimer's disease were less agitated and more socially interactive when therapy dogs visited.
"Some pets, though, will present a hazard just because they are so attached to their owners," Dr. Cavalieri warned. "A dog or cat that likes to nap at its owner's feet can present a tripping hazard, especially for older individuals who have less of the strength and flexibility needed to 'catch' themselves when they begin to fall."
Dr. Cavalieri offered these tips for helping to safeguard older friends and family members from pet-related falls:
"¢ Make sure pets " especially dogs " are obedience trained to walk calmly on a leash and to not jump on visitors.
"¢ Discourage pets from lying next to beds at night or at the foot of chairs.
"¢ Don't leave pet toys in the middle of the floor.
"¢ If you have an older friend or relative with a dog, offer to go along on walks so that you can handle the leash.
The entire CDC report on pet-related falls is available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/.
Media interested in speaking with Dr. Cavalieri on this or any topic associated with aging and health should contact Jerry Carey, UMDNJ News Service, at (856) 566-6171.
The UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine (www.som.umdnj.edu) is dedicated to providing excellence in medical education, research and health care for New Jersey and the nation. An emphasis on primary health care and community health services reflects the school's osteopathic philosophy, with centers of excellence that demonstrate its commitment to developing clinically skillful, compassionate and culturally competent physicians from diverse backgrounds, who are prepared to become leaders in their communities.
The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is the nation's largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health, on five campuses. Last year, there were more than two million patient visits to UMDNJ facilities and faculty at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a mental health and addiction services network.