By paying attention to physical fitness, environmental safety and visual health, seniors can maintain their independence and prevent potentially fatal fall-related injuries.
When my grandmother fell down some steps and broke a hip, my mother and I were terrified. Even in the 1990s, it was widely known that a broken hip meant a difficult convalescence for many older adults, and for the unlucky, it could even be a death sentence. Luckily, Grandma Lilli recovered and continued to be her unstoppable self, but many of those aged 65 and older who take a fall are not so fortunate.
Fall-related injuries can be prevented, though. Staying physically fit, maintaining a healthy diet that promotes bone density, and minimizing hazards in the home are all important strategies to help seniors remain active, safe and independent.
As a recent NPR article highlighted, breaking a hip can lead to a range of other frightening health complications for older adults, including the fear of future falls and significant loss of independence. It’s the physical dangers that are the most shocking, though. Although hip fracture rates have been declining in America, falls are still the leading cause of injuries in older adults, reports the CDC, with 20-30% of falls leading to moderate or severe injuries. A whopping 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls.
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Women are particularly vulnerable: among older adults, the rate of hip fractures in women is more than twice as high as in men. Hip fractures can also lead to earlier mortality: “A large proportion of fall deaths are due to complications following a hip fracture,” says the CDC. “One in five hip fracture patients dies within a year of their injury.” Falls and subsequent injuries can also lead to reduced mobility, lack of physical fitness, and a greater probability of ending up in long-term care.
There are numerous risk factors that increase the chance of falls and fall-related injuries, and these unfortunately tend to multiply as we get older. In order to prevent falls and maintain hip health, the key is to be aware of these risk factors and avoid or minimize them as much as possible. Of course, some risks are impossible to avoid, such as inherent differences in bone density due to gender, ethnicity or stature. Women; small-boned, slender people; and Asian and Caucasian people are more prone to loss of bone density and osteoporosis as they age.
Other risk factors for falls and broken bones are avoidable, or at least preventable. Poor nutrition, eating disorders, and alcohol and tobacco use can lead to bone loss, and all of these can be addressed by you and your care providers. Some medical conditions can also lead to bone loss, while other conditions can increase the risk of falls; appropriate treatment and monitoring is critical to avoiding injury. Poor physical fitness or balance, medication interactions and tripping hazards in the home environment can also increase the chance of taking an injurious fall.
To prevent a broken hip, there are many steps older adults can take to address issues with nutrition, fitness and home safety that might be increasing their risk of falling. Some tips on injury and fall prevention for seniors:
Though falls can be dangerous and even cause life-threatening injuries, we can all take simple steps to minimize the risks to ourselves and our loved ones and improve our hip and bone health.
Have you or a loved one been impacted by a fall or a broken hip? We invite you to share your stories in the comments.