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North Shore leads B.C. in fall injuries
With some of the country’s lowest infant mortality rates and highest life expectancies, it’s what North Shore residents are doing with their time in between that has local health professionals shaking their heads.
According to Vancouver Coastal Health, the North Shore suffers the province’s highest rate of hospitalization from falls, both at home and recreation related.
“It’s higher than in any other health authority across the province,” said VCH active living coordinator JoAnne Burleigh at the North Shore Safety Council AGM last week.
The topic of the Nov. 1 meeting was ‘dealing with risk-taking behaviour,’ particularly among young people, and the keynote presentation was delivered by Lions Gate Hospital emergency physician and medical consultant for mass gathering events, Dr. Sam Gutman.
“The North Shore experience is vastly different from the other hospitals in the Lower Mainland,” Gutman said. “I know the weather when I’m on a shift — and if you’ve been to Lions Gate you know there’s no windows in the emergency [room] — but I know the weather based on what’s coming in the door. So, I know when there’s ice on Grouse Mountain; I know when it’s freezing rain.”
And it’s not just during the winter months that people on the North Shore are the most accident prone.
Gutman joked that his favourite time of year, despite the weather, tends to be from October to November because of the brief lull in injuries it affords as people who live and recreate on the North Shore transition from one high-risk sport to another.
“It’s the only two-month period when it’s quiet. There’s less mountain biking, there’s no snowboarding. The number of risk behaviours drops precipitously and we actually see it in our volumes of patients,” Gutman said.
“But I know that by the third weekend of November, I’m going to start seeing broken wrists and concussions from the slopes and I know that probably around March or April I’m going to start seeing mountain bike injuries.”
From the latter category, Gutman said 53 per cent of mountain bike injuries happen to those 20-39 years old, with 81 per cent of injuries occurring in males.
Young men are especially hardwired hardwired to take risks and put themselves in danger, Gutman said, comparing a young man’s compulsion towards careless behaviour with an addiction to drugs or gambling.
“Physiologically they are impelled to do this. It’s not even a choice situation,” Gutman told the health-and-safety gathering.
“It’s evolutionarily adaptive,” he continued. “When the young male is doing preening behaviour or trying to attract a mate or trying to survive to procreate the next generation, being able to go out and attack that tiger is an adaptive thing. And the ones who aren’t very good at attacking the tigers, don’t survive."
However, Gutman stressed risk-taking behaviour isn’t unique to any one age group or gender, and said we should focus on channelling the natural risk-taking tendencies we all have into positive “smart risk” activities that will benefit our health over time.
Those activities, he said, can include so-called extreme sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, rock climbing and parkour, as long as participants have proper supervision, instruction and equipment.
“In terms of chronic disease, which is the epidemic of the next 20 years, activity is the single largest modifiable factor,” he said.
“We have to make a decision as a society: Are we going to focus and invest in lifestyle or are we going down the same path that has led us to an epidemic of chronic disease?”