A fractured bone can be serious in an elderly person. The elderly are more prone to falling and falls resulting in broken bones can lead to a loss of their ability to maintain their independence. Statistically, Cleveland Clinic reports that over 11 million elderly people age 65 or over, sustain some type of fall. That means that one out of every three senior citizens will fall.
Many seniors desire to maintain their independence as long as possible. They want to remain in their own homes and care for themselves but a fall resulting in a fracture can rob them of their independence. According to Health News , depending on the location and severity of the fall, fractures can result in the patient becoming bedridden. This can progress to other medical problems as a result of the inactivity, including bedsores, urinary tract infections and pneumonia. Death can also result from complication of falls.
What causes their bones to be so fragile?
According to Cleveland Clinic a bone condition commonly seen in the elderly known as osteoporosis can lead to fractures. This insidious condition, known to occur four times as often in women than men, causes the bones to become porous and brittle, leaving the bones more fragile until they eventually break. The changes seen in the bone is often the result of vitamin D and calcium deficiency and hormonal changes. Vitamin D is needed for the proper absorption of calcium. Fractures from osteoporosis are often seen in the hip or spine. The elderly are especially prone to osteoporosis and unless their bone density is monitored regularly this condition will go unnoticed until a fracture occurs. In addition to osteoporosis, there are other factors that may lead to falls and resultant fractures. Let’s look at a few of these causes.
● Impaired mobility – Changes in the body as time passes cause the muscles to weaken. Due to weakness and decreased energy, the elderly tend to be less active. This affects their mobility. An increase in joint pain from conditions such as arthritis can also adversely affect mobility.
● Poor exercise tolerance – Elderly persons tend to live a more sedentary lifestyle. They may not desire to have a regular exercise program. Certain medical problems such as heart or lung conditions can limit their ability to participate in some forms of exercise.
● Poor vision – As we age our visual acuity changes. Visual problems such as cataracts and glaucoma cause the elderly to have difficulty seeing, even in familiar surroundings. When this is coupled with poor mobility, falls are inevitable. Wearing bifocals can also cause problems, affecting their depth perception.
● Side effects of medicines – As the elderly develop more medical conditions they may require more medications. These drugs often have side effects which can cause drowsiness,confusion, or impaired judgment. Even over-the-counter medicines can have such side effects.
● Poor reflexes – The elderly tend to have poor reflexes and slower response time. According to Aging Care, automatic responses are slowed because of the aging process. As a result, it is harder for them to react to their environment . If they are falling they are unable to compensate to maintain their balance and correct the fall as quickly as a younger person would be able to.
● Cluttered surroundings – Some elderly persons are prone to falls because their home environment is cluttered. As people get older and their energy levels wane, housekeeping may be too strenuous for them. Items accumulate over time that they are reluctant to discard. Walking paths become cluttered and they will trip and fall over rugs, cords or other objects. According to Aging Care, nine out of ten hip fractures are caused by a fall.
What you can do to help prevent fractures
Safety and fall prevention is important if you are elderly or if you are caring for someone who is. Many seniors do not realize how vulnerable they may be to falling, Many falls occur as the result of carelessness. Here are some tips that will be beneficial:
● Be sure to see your physician regularly for a bone density check. This will determine how fragile your bones are. Your doctor will prescribe supplemental calcium for you to take if it is needed.
● Have a family member or friend check your environment carefully. Remove any trip hazards such as throw rugs and electrical cords and make sure the aisles are as clutter-free as possible. If a cord has to be in your walking path, have it taped down securely.
● Have a communication system established so you have a means to contact someone in an emergency. There are many companies that sell medical alert systems for a reasonable cost. If your family is not nearby, have a friend, neighbor or church member check on you regularly. Daily phone calls and regular visits from a friend or relative are helpful in assuring your safety.
● Be sure there is adequate lighting in your home both inside and outside. Keep extra light bulbs handy. Keep flashlights and batteries available in case of a power outage.
● Secure the handrails on all staircases both inside and outside your home. Have grab bars installed in the bathtub to help you prevent falling.
● During the winter months have someone keep the sidewalk free of ice for you. Assure that care is taken when you walk outside, especially if it is raining, snowing or icy outside. This becomes especially important if you use an assistive device such as a walker or cane.
● If you know you have balance problems, be sure to use your cane or walker, even when you’re indoors. You need the added support these devices provide.
● Keep frequently used household items within easy reach so you don’t have to climb. If you do need to climb to reach something, use a stable foundation such as a wide-based step stool. Avoid standing on the tips of your toes to reach anything and don’t over-reach.
● Wear well-fitting, comfortable shoes. Your shoes need to be wide enough for the toes to move freely and offer the most comfort. Avoid flip-flops, loosely fitting sandals and shoes with a slippery sole.
● Don’t try to walk if you feel weak or dizzy. Call for help and report the problem to your physician. The dizziness could be caused from side effects of medications you’re taking or may be due from other medical conditions. In any case, it needs to be evaluated.
Health News: “Broken Bones: Risk of Death in the Elderly”
Scum Doctor: “The Result of Broken Bones To The Elderly”
Aging Care: “Preventing Falls, Fractures and Broken Bones in Elders”
Aging Care: “Why do elderly people fall more easily?”
Colorado State University: “Preventing falls in the elderly”