An estimated one-third of adults over the age of 65 suffer a fall each year. Falls can often lead to fractures, particularly in patients with osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle so even a ground-level fall may cause a fracture of the hip — one of the leading causes of disability and death in older individuals.
With the increasing population of older adults in the United States, the number of hip fractures is expected to double over the next 10 to 15 years. In 2000, there were 250,000 hip fractures nationwide. By 2020, that number is expected to increase to 500,000.
Hip Fracture Prevention
According to hip surgeon Alan H. Klein, MD, an important step in working to prevent hip fractures is understanding osteoporosis, recognizing it, and treating it promptly. Bone is a living tissue, and the body constantly removes old bone and replaces it with new tissue. Beginning in the mid-thirties, most people gradually start to lose more bone than is replaced, resulting in thinner, weaker bones.
Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races, but those at highest risk are Caucasian and Asian women over the age of 50.
Osteoporosis, which typically has no recognizable symptoms, is diagnosed through a DEXA scan – a simple and painless test, similar to an x-ray that measures bone mineral density. Once the diagnosis is made, treatment usually consists of calcium and vitamin D supplementation, medication, and weight-bearing exercises.
Reducing the Risk of Hip Fractures
Although family history of osteoporosis and small bone structure are key risk factors in developing the condition, anyone can start making lifestyle changes at a young age to prevent its occurrence. This includes eating a healthy diet with adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, doing plenty of weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise, and avoiding cigarettes and excessive alcohol.
Fall prevention is another key factor in minimizing the risk of hip fracture. There are many reasons seniors fall. As we age, we lose our ability to recover from an accidental trip, such as over an object or a pet. Elderly patients often are on multiple medications, and these medications can sometimes interact and lead to dizziness, sleepiness, and loss of balance. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about each medication and how they may interact with each other.
Preventing Hip Fractures at Home
A home safety evaluation by a professional is recommended to help make your everyday surroundings safer. For example, throw rugs can bunch up and become hazards, and extension cords should never be used across open spaces. Pull bars should be installed in bathrooms, in addition to non-slip bath mats. Avoid risky behavior such as climbing on furniture to change a light bulb or to clean and dust. Adequate lighting is also a necessity, because as we age, eyesight can deteriorate and make it more difficult to see hazards in our path.
With a greater understanding of osteoporosis, its risk factors, and prevention strategies, older individuals can avoid the debilitating condition of a hip fracture, and enjoy a higher quality of life.