A hip fracture in an elderly person is a serious, life-changing, potentially fatal event. About 2 million hip fractures occur each year, and that number is expected to grow as our population ages.
Even with modern medical care, about 25 percent of elderly patients who suffer a hip fracture will die within a year. Most will lose the ability to walk as well as they did before falling. Many no longer will be able to live independently.
Changes that occur with aging contribute to the conditions that can lead to a hip fracture. We start losing bone strength from early adulthood, which is hastened in women after menopause. Muscle mass and strength decreases, as well as balance and protective reflexes. Neurologic changes including Parkinson's disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, dementia and decreased eyesight increase the risk of falls.
Medical conditions including irregular heartbeat, fluctuating blood pressure and diabetes, and side effects of medications also increase the risk of falling. Simple things in our environment — especially in our homes — become hazards, including ill-fitting shoes, slick floors, loose rugs and exposed electrical cords.
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A hip fracture is a devastating event, but you can take relatively simple steps to decrease your risk. Bone loss can be lessened by maintaining an adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, usually requiring supplements and sometimes the addition of medicines to make bones stronger.
Jogging, walking and bicycling can stimulate bones. Exercise that strengthens muscles, and improves coordination and balance also can lessen the risk of falls.
Make your home safer by removing or securing throw rugs, moving electrical cords, and clearing objects in hallways and stairs. Make sure there is adequate lighting. The bathroom can be made safer with grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower or tub. A raised toilet seat might be helpful. Wear shoes or slippers that have good gripping soles; avoid heels, and never walk in stocking feet. If you have balance or weakness problems, a cane or walker can be a lifesaver.
A good reference is the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons patient information website: Orthoinfo.aaos.org. It offers tips for decreasing the risk of suffering a hip fracture.
Dr. James Ritterbusch, an orthopedic surgeon with Lexington Orthopaedic Associates, practices at Central Baptist Hospital.