Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

How to Avoid Breaking Your Hip

For a senior, a hip fracture can be as life-threatening as heart disease or cancer. Sadly, nearly one in four older women who fracture a hip will die within a year. For men, the odds are even worse. A year after a hip fracture, one-third will not survive. Of those who do, many will not be able to walk without a cane or walker.

The reasons for such poor outcomes after hip fractures are not clear, however loss of mobility and independence play an important role. Immobility also leads to depression, a loss of motivation, and, in many cases, even the will to thrive and live.

Since we don’t want one, let’s look at ways to prevent these potentially devastating accidents.

Fall Proofing Your Home

Most falls occur in the homes, that were built without the needs of senior residents in mind. Many contain slippery floors and poorly-lit hallways, and stairs.

To fall-proof your home, start with your kitchen and your bathroom, the two most common sites for falls. Grab rails are a must in the shower and next to the shower, bathtub and sink. They don’t have to look industrial. There are nice designer shapes and colors from which to choose.

If you use throw rugs in the bathroom or kitchen, make sure they are fixed to the floor. Re-organize your kitchen to ensure that commonly-used items can be easily reached. And don’t store anything so high that you need to stand on a chair or stool to reach it.

Be sure hallways and staircases are well-lit and clutter-free. For more information on how to make your home safer, visit www.homemods.org.

Change Those Shoes

High heels and smooth-soled shoes must go. Personally, I prefer the security of shoes with non-skid bottoms. If you encounter a wet or slippery surface, your shoes can make the difference.

While you’re at it, retire those running shoes with lots of elevation. They simply put too much space between the soles of your feet and the surface on which you’re walking.

Improve Your Balance

There are several ways to improve your balance and thereby prevent falls. Perhaps the best method was devised by the Chinese, and is called T’ai Chi. The gentle motions of T’ai Chi have been shown in clinical trials to reduce falls and their resultant hip fractures in seniors.

If T’ai Chi is not for you, there are other balance exercises that a physical therapist can show you. Your physical therapist or physician can also coach you on how to avoid landing on your hip if you do take a fall.

Strengthen Your Bones

We all lose bone mass after the age of 40 or so. For women, this process accelerates after menopause due to a loss of estrogen. What can we do to slow down and even reverse this process so that we’re not at risk for fractures?

Surprisingly, the best way to strengthen bone is through exercise, both the aerobic and strength-training types. Just 30 minutes of walking at two to three miles per hour will build bone mass. Light weight training will strengthen your bones as well as improve your balance.

Get Sufficient Vitamin D

Another way to prevent fractures is by getting enough vitamin D, which has been shown to prevent falls. Your skin manufactures vitamin D after exposure to the UV rays in sunlight.

Unless you get out in the sun for a considerable amount of time each day, it is unlikely that you are getting enough vitamin D, and you will need to take a supplement of 1,000 IU a day.

Have a Bone Scan

If you are over age 50, you should have a DEXA scan. This x-ray of your hip and spine will determine if you have osteoporosis (severe loss of bone matrix) or osteopenia (moderate loss of bone matrix). If you do have these conditions, you are at greater risk for hip fracture.

There are several options for treating osteopenia and osteoporosis. Consult with your physician to see if estrogen, etidrionates such as Fosamax, SERMs such as Rolaxifene, calcitonin, or parathyroid hormone, are right for you.

Reducing the risk of a hip fracture and its consequences is something you can start working on today. By taking the steps outlined above, you should be able to protect yourself from this potentially devastating injury.

Dr. Ed SchneiderDr. Edward L. Schneider headed the largest private center for research and education on aging, the Andrus Gerontology Center of the University of Southern California, from 1986 to 2004. He is now Dean Emeritus of the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and Professor of Medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine. Dr. Schneider has written or co-written 14 books, including Ageless: Take Control of Your Age & Stay Youthful for Life, and published more than 180 scientific articles on topics related to aging.

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