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Injury risk on rise for aging farmers

Researcher says farmers and farmfamiliesmust work closelywith health care providers to ensure that chronic conditions are managed properly.


griculture has always been recognized as a dangerous occupation, especially for

farmers and farm workers over the age of 60.

An academic review headed by a University of Alberta researcher suggests the risk of injury and fatalities among older farmers can be reduced if families recognize and manage key factors that contribute to farm injuries, such as chronic health problems and the use of prescription drugs to treat those health problems.

Don Voaklander, a farm injury expert with the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research in Edmonton, says farmers and farm families must work closely with health care providers to ensure that chronic health issues such as arthritis, heart problems, chronic back pain, limited mobility, impaired hearing, sleep deprivation, depression and asthma are managed properly in aging farmers.

In essence, Voaklander’s research, entitled Health, Medication Use and Agricultural Injury, suggests that injury rates and fatalities among older farmers can be reduced if farm families and health care providers do a better job of recognizing the factors that contribute to farm-related injuries.

It has been reported that prescription drugs or other medications such as sedatives, non-steroidal anti- inflammatories, narcotic pain killers, anti-depressants, heart medications and drugs used to treat stomach ailments may have contributed to farm injury statistics.

The research further determined that while significant attention is paid to disease factors that increase the risk of injury, much less work has been devoted to examining the role medications may have played in contributing to farm injuries and fatalities. The study outlines a variety of

farming activities and specific risk factors that have ranked agriculture among the most dangerous occupations for older workers in North America. For example, the study suggests that the operation of tractors and other farm equipment requires accurate sensory input, rapid information processing, reliable judgement and fast motor responses.

“Farming as an occupation demands a variety of skills that come under the general label of human sensorimotor performance,” explains Voaklander. “These include skills in vision, hearing, memory and vigilance, as well as the ability to make decisions while performing both complex and repetitive tasks.”

According to Voaklander, studies have shown that multiple drug use to treat a wide range of chronic and acute diseases can affect a person’s

orientation and coordination. Particular combinations of medication have been linked to an increased risk of impaired balance, falls and motor vehicle collisions. Diuretics, potassium supplements and drugs that alter blood pressure and pulse rates can also affect a person’s ability to perform typical on- farm tasks, thereby increasing the risk of injury or death. The findings regarding the use of medications and the performance of farm duties are particularly significant given the demographic trends that are expected to emerge in the North American farming community during the next two decades. As a whole, the North American population is experiencing a demographic shift that will see a larger proportion of the population fall into the age range of 65 years or older. This aging trend is also expected to affect a farming population that is already recognized as one of the oldest occupational groups in North America. In other words, as the farming population grows older, the number of injuries related to disease and disability risk factors, chronic health problems and medication use seems likely to increase.

Further complicating the health risks of elderly farm workers are factors such as insufficient rehabilitation after a previous injury, a lack of rehabilitation facilities and programs in rural areas and a tendency among farmers to return to work too quickly after an injury has occurred.

— Canadian Agricultural Safety Assoc.

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