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University Professor helps improve stair safety

26 February 09


A researcher from the University of Bradford has had a paper published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE) today (25 February 2009).

Professor David Elliott from the Bradford School of Optometry and Vision Science has played a key role over the past few years in trying to find ways to make stair negation safer for older people.

His paper, 'Does my step look big in this? A visual illusion leads to safer stepping behaviour.' suggests strategies to improve safety on stairs, particularly on the first and last steps, the most dangerous steps where most people fall.

At least 2-3 old people die in the UK everyday from a fall-related injury on stairs, with many more suffering fractures and bruising. Trips and subsequent falls appear to be due in part, to individuals not lifting their feet high enough above the step edge when stepping onto it. This could possibly be due to an older person's drive to conserve energy.

Professor Elliott's research suggests if a step could be 'made' to look taller elderly people would use a higher foot clearance to step onto it. He found that steps could be made to appear 5% taller by using a visual illusion, the horizontal-vertical illusion, which is often used in the fashion industry to make people look thinner and taller and this led to subjects raising their foot higher above the step edge by about the same amount.

Professor David Elliott said: "We need more research to develop this idea, but adding vertical stripes on a step riser with a horizontal stripe on the step edge does makes a step look taller and could improve safety on stairs, particularly for older people."

26 February 09

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