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How Breaking Your Hip Increases Your Death Risk

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonJanuary 12, 2015
How Breaking Your Hip Increases Your Death Risk

By paying attention to physical fitness, environmental safety and visual health, seniors can maintain their independence and prevent potentially fatal fall-related injuries.

How Breaking Your Hip Increases Your Death Risk

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.

The Dangers to Older Adults of Breaking a Hip

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.

The Importance of Hip Health

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.

Injury and Fall Prevention for Seniors

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:

  1. Safeguard the home environment. To minimize the risk of falls in the home, reduce slipping and tripping hazards such as loose carpet edges, add grab bars and railings where needed, ensure furniture is stable, and make sure lighting is sufficient and light switches accessible.
  2. Get regular exercise. Physical fitness is a critical factor in reducing the risk of falls, especially weight-bearing exercise that focuses on strength and balance.
  3. Take your vitamins. In addition to eating a nutritious diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D, those with osteoporosis or other risk factors for low bone density may want to consult a doctor and ask if other supplements or treatments are needed, such as hormone replacement therapy.
  4. Keep track of medications. Certain types of medications may cause dizziness or drowsiness as a side effect, or as the result of a drug interaction. This can increase the risk of falling, so make sure to have a doctor review your medicines periodically for any potential dangers.
  5. Maintain your eye health. Get an eye test at least once a year, and make sure any eyeglasses or contact lens prescriptions are up to date. The CDC recommends that older adults consider glasses with single vision distance lenses for outdoor activities.
  6. Wear sensible clothing. Flat shoes with adequate traction on the soles can help minimize the risk of tripping. Those who are particularly worried about hip fractures can wear hip padding to minimize the impact of a fall.

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.  

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Sarah Stevenson
Sarah Stevenson

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