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Ergonomics & Aging

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2004 and 2014, employment of workers age 65+ nearly doubled. Age alone doesn't cause Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), but since workers have been on the job longer and RSI is a result of trauma accumulated with time, the odds of having problems with increasing years are higher.

Other factors which contribute to RSI are genetic predisposition, obesity, slenderness, alcoholism, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes. Many of these problems appear as people age.

In addition, women get RSI more frequently than men, mostly because they have smaller muscles, but also due to hormonal changes from pregnancy, menopause, and gynecological surgery that can cause swelling. Even though women are more prone to RSI, men often ignore pain because of a macho attitude. They put off treatment until they are almost completely disabled with a severe injury.

For a more complete discussion on the topic of aging and ergonomics, read our Feature Article: Ergonomics & Aging (PDF).

The following table addresses common changes that occur with aging and recommended ergonomic solutions to accommodate these changes.
VisualDecreased ability to read fine print
Decreased adaptation to the dark
Increased sensitivity to glare
Altered depth perception
Reduction in ability of eyes to tear
Brighter lighting
Reduce/eliminate glare with indirect lighting
Use special-purpose lighting
Use high contrast materials
HearingDecreased high-frequency hearing
Decreased ability to discriminate some sounds
Avoid high-frequency noise
Reduce background noise
Use equipment with adjustable noise levels
SkinDecreased fat and water in subcutaneous tissue
Decreased skin elasticity
More difficulty in regulating body temperature
Stay hydrated
Avoid work in extreme hot or cold temperatures
Avoid work with chemicals with defatting properties
MusclesDecreased muscle mass and strength
Increased muscle response time and fatigue
Reduce work with static muscle effort (e.g. sustained positions)
Increase use of mechanical lifts
Keep work in "neutral zone"
Eliminate twisting
Stretch upper body throughout the day
Continue or begin regular exercise programs
EndocrineDecreased insulin production
Decreased thyroid function
Decreased tolerance to heat or cold
Take breaks each hour to stand up and stretch upper body
Avoid work in hot or cold environments
ImmuneDecreased inflammatory response
Increased risk of infections
Avoid repetitive-motion work
Take precautions to avoid infection

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