Walking dogs can raise injury risk for seniors: study suggests

Leslie Hanson
March 9, 2019

Studies have already shown that owning a pet, particularly a dog, comes with several health benefits.

Walking the dog is providing older adults daily physical activity, but it is also sending a lot of them to the emergency room.

"Pets can provide companionship for older adults, and the physical exercise from regularly walking a dog may improve other aspects of physical and psychological health", said Dr. Matthew Hepinstall, who wasn't involved in the new study.

After reviewing injury surveillance database for patients 65 or older at about 100 USA emergency departments, researches of the University of Pennsylvania found that fracture injuries associated with leashed dogs walking have increased significantly from 1,671 cases in 2004 to 4,396 in 2017, representing a 163 percent increase, which was higher than fractures from other types of activities. The numbers jumped from nearly 1,700 in 2004 to about 4,400 in 2017.

The study was published Wednesday in JAMA.

People over 65 who fracture their hips have a 20 to 30 percent chance of dying within a year, or "higher than if you have a mild heart attack or get diagnosed with a mild cancer", Ahn said. That may be because frailer people are more likely to fall, he said. So doctors say before embarking on those healthful outings, older patients should consider strength training for themselves and obedience training for their dogs.

The researchers also noted that their data on dog walking-related injuries might be low.

"Dog walking, which has repeatedly demonstrated social, emotional and physical health benefits, is a popular and frequently recommended activity for many older Americans seeking new ways to stay active", said Kevin Pirrurico, a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania and the lead author of the study. "But this is kind of surprising to them, and it turns their life upside down".

Bush fell on her right hip "and my femur just snapped", she said.

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