Falls, Fractures and Aging: How to Avoid Fractures and How to Treat Fractures When They Occur
Sometimes a simple trip over a rug or slip on a wet floor can result in broken bones or fractures. Seniors are especially at risk for falls that result in these injuries. In fact, one out of every three people over 65 falls annually in the U.S., and falls account for 87 percent of all fractures among those aged 65 years or older.
Despite the risk, it’s important not to let a fear of falling keep you from being active. The good news is there are simple ways to prevent most falls.
- Physical Activity: Stay active with a physical activity program that is right for you. Regular exercise improves muscle strength. It helps keep your joints, tendons and ligaments flexible. Adding mild weight-bearing activities, such as walking or climbing stairs, can slow bone loss from osteoporosis. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines for exercise for older adults.
- Nutrition: A healthy diet goes hand-in-hand with healthy aging, including fall prevention. Here are some great tips from the National Institute on Aging on dietary requirements for older adults.
- Eyesight and Hearing: Make sure to have your eyes and hearing tested. Even slight changes in sight and hearing may cause a fall. Keep your eyeglass prescriptions up-to-date and make sure your hearing aids, if worn, are well fitted.
- Medications: If you take medications, know if any of the side effects cause sleepiness or dizziness. If you experience either of these side effects, talk with your doctor.
- Rest: Make sure you get enough rest. Sleepy people are more apt to have accidents such as falls.
- Good Shoes: If you are prone to falls, always wear supportive shoes with non-skid, rubber soles and low heels. Never walk around on stairs or floors in socks or in shoes and slippers with smooth soles.
- Walking Aids: If your doctor recommends that you use a cane or walker, even if just temporarily, use it. Make sure it is the right size for you and that the wheels roll smoothly.
- Calcium and Vitamin D: Make sure your diet contains sources of calcium and vitamin D for bone health. Vitamin D deficiency can be a risk factor for seniors. It can be hard to get it through diet. And as we age, our bodies are not as able to synthesize Vitamin D through sunlight as well as they used to. You may want to talk with your primary care doctor about testing your vitamin D levels and supplementation, if necessary.
- Safe Home: Create an environment in your home that helps to prevent falls. Have good lighting in your home; keep walkways clear of clutter; use non-skid mats, especially in areas where floors get wet like bathrooms; use nightlights in your bathrooms and make sure electric cords and wires are not loose on the floor.
Additional fall prevention resource can be found on the CDC’s website.
Recovering from Falls
For seniors, fractures are often a consequence of falls. The most common bones to fracture in falls are the:
- Femur (thigh bone)
- Vertebrae (spine)
- Humerus (upper arm bone)
- Hand bones
- Ankle bones
If you have fallen and suspect a break or fracture, see your doctor for an examination to assess your overall condition, as well as the extent of the injury.
Fractures are most commonly evaluated with x-rays that provide an image of the bones and show whether a bone is broken or not. They can also show the type of fracture and its exact location within the bone.
The medical treatment for broken bones focuses on putting the bone back into position and preventing it from moving out of place until it has fully healed. Broken bone ends heal by “knitting” back together. The new bone forms around the edge of the broken parts of the bone.
Surgery is sometimes required to treat fractures. The type of treatment needed will depend on the severity and type of the break as well as the bone involved in the fracture. A variety of treatments are used to treat fractures. You can learn more about specific treatments on the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website.
Depending on the extent of the injury, fractures can take several weeks to several months to heal. Adherence to your doctor’s treatment protocol is very important, as the pain associated with a fracture typically stops long before the fracture is solid enough to handle the stresses of previous activity. It’s easy to think your body is ready to do things before the bones may actually be fully healed and ready to resume normal activity.
Even after the cast or brace is removed, you may need to continue to limit movement until the bone is solid enough. Another issue to be aware of is that during your recovery, you will likely lose muscle strength in the injured area. You may need to work with a physical therapist to help restore normal muscle strength, joint motion and flexibility.
Falls can result in serious injuries, notably for seniors. But if prompt medical attention is sought after a fall when broken bones or a fracture are suspected, you can get on the right treatment path for recovery. Also, prevention is critical and can go a long way in avoiding falls that may result in injuries.