Why Fractures Can Be Deadly for Seniors

fractures in elderly

Breaking a bone is never good, no matter one’s age. But there’s no doubt that a child who breaks his arm when he falls from his bike will heal much faster than his parent who breaks a bone when they slip on an icy patch of sidewalk. But a middle-aged parent will heal faster than their elderly parent who falls while getting out of the shower and breaks a hip.

Why does it take seniors and elderly adults so long to recover from fractures?

As we get older, our bones become weaker and thinner. For women, that might be driven by hormonal changes, such as a lack of estrogen after menopause. For men, the natural decline of testosterone can make them more likely to suffer a fracture[1]. Healing of bone fractures are affected by these hormonal changes. In addition, the vascular system in our bones tends to deteriorate over time, hindering our ability to heal[2]. Certain medical conditions, such as osteoporosis or diabetes, can extend the healing time even more. And if you wind up lying on the floor for an extended period of time after a fall, other conditions can come into play that set back healing, such as dehydration, pressure injuries, and muscle or tissue damage[3].

But while we know that recovery takes longer, new studies have found that the risk of death from fractures is much higher in elderly adults, especially when they have underlying health issues or the fracture is closer to the center of the body.

Fractures Can Be Deadly for Seniors

A study published in JAMA Network Open evaluated more than 300,000 study participants over the age of 50 who sustained a fracture. Those who had an injury closer to the core of the body, such as the vertebrae, hip, or upper arm, had a higher death rate than those who had fractures in areas further away from the core, such as the hands or feet. And those who had serious health conditions in addition to the fracture had an even higher risk of death.

The researchers also discovered that the medical conditions experienced by those with fractures fell into five categories: cardiovascular issues, diabetes, cancer, those of relative good health with one or no adverse medical conditions, and liver/inflammatory illnesses (though this group applied only to men).  Among those groups, the severity of the condition and those who had more than one condition contributed to the higher risk of death.

For instance, men who had cancer were 41% more likely to die after a fracture than men of similar age but without either problem. And while those with diabetes were not necessarily more likely to die, those who had diabetes along with other conditions, such as kidney disease or heart disease, did see a higher risk.

What does this mean? By identifying those who are at higher risk of death as a result of a fracture, doctors can pinpoint those who need more intensive care while in the hospital. That can lead to better outcomes. But the best option is, of course, to avoid fractures in the first place.

Understanding Your Fall Risk Factors

Though a fall and subsequent fracture can happen to anyone, knowing your risk factors can help you be more aware of your movements. Those with even one risk factor might want to consider a medical alert system with fall detection. The odds of a fracture are much higher for seniors who have the following issues[4]:

·         Diseases that can affect the bones, such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoporosis

·         Kidney failure that requires dialysis

·         Intestinal problems that prevent you from absorbing nutrients

·         A sedentary lifestyle

·         An inadequate intake of vitamin D

·         Problems with your thyroid

·         Smoking or the long-term abuse of alcohol

·         Certain medications, such as those for high blood pressure, thyroid conditions, some cancers, blood thinners, anxiety medications, or those that contain corticosteroids

·         A history of fractures, either for yourself or your parents

A universal risk factor for fractures is simply growing older. That’s why it’s a good idea to look into an emergency response solution. A medical alert pendant can provide the peace of mind that if you do suffer a fall or any other accident or emergency, you won’t have to worry about getting help – it’s literally right there at your fingertips.

How to Avoid Falls and Fractures

To avoid falls and fractures, it’s important to start with understanding why the elderly are more prone to falls in the first place. Having the knowledge of what is happening with your body as you age and how that can lead to being unsteady on your feet can allow you to be proactive in finding fall prevention techniques and aging in place solutions. According to the National Institute on Aging, falls can be caused by: 

·         Mild cognitive impairment

·         Certain types of dementia

·         Incontinence, and rushing to get to the bathroom in time

·         Diminished hearing and eyesight

·         The slowing of reflexes as we age

·         Problems with your feet or legs, such as pain or an unbalanced gait

·         Wearing unsafe footwear

·         Postural hypotension (when your blood pressure drops as you stand from a sitting position)

·         Loss of muscle mass related to aging

·         Certain conditions that can affect your balance, such as heart disease, thyroid issues, neuropathy, blood vessel problems, or diabetes

·         Medications that can cause side effects such as dizziness or fatigue

·         Safety hazards in the home, such as a cluttered walkway or wayward electrical cords

Here are useful tips for fall prevention:

·         Get the right kind of exercise. Speak to your doctor about a good exercise program for you. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of exercise each week, which breaks down to 30 minutes each day. Not only should you aim to get your heart rate up a bit, you should also look into weight-bearing exercises to strengthen your muscles. This list of exercises can help.

·         Get good nutrition. Staying healthy and strong starts with what you put into your body. Look to a diet full of lean protein, dark leafy greens, and plenty of vegetables and fruit. Speak to your doctor about whether calcium or vitamin D supplements might be right for you[5].

·         Get enough sleep. When you don’t sleep well, you wind up fatigued, and that can lead to falls and other accidents. Look to get the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night[6].

·         Review your medications. Talk with your doctor about the medications you are on, the potential side effects, and whether any of them lead to a greater fall risk. You might be able to get on a medication that still works well but doesn’t include the side effects.

·         Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol slows reflexes, making it more likely that you’ll fall down and get injured.

·         Get regular hearing and vision tests. Make sure your prescription for eyeglasses is up to date and wear them as directed. If you need a hearing aid, take the time to make sure you have the right one.

·         Implement aging in place solutions. Put grab bars in places where you know you might fall, such as in the shower, around the toilet, or along any stairs or ramps. Non-skid flooring and brighter lighting are also good ideas.

·         Get medical alert technology. If you do fall down, you’ll need assistance immediately. This quick action can lead to a much better, healthier outcome[7]. Medical alert devices with fall detection add an extra layer of protection, as these devices can alert a monitoring center automatically, the moment the fall sensors detect a fall.

·         Tell your doctor if you fall down. Statistically, suffering one fall means that you are much more likely to have another one. Telling your doctor about the fall might prompt them to look at your medications and health history to determine what might be done to alleviate your risk.

As you do what it takes to help you avoid falls, consider Alert1 protection for your safety and peace of mind. Suffering a fracture is a sudden, painful, and even disorienting thing. More than 95% of hip fractures – which are among the most serious fractures you can sustain – happen when someone falls down, usually by falling sideways[8]. The last thing anyone wants is to lie on the floor in pain, frightened about what just happened and unsure of when help might show up. Though a medical alert bracelet or pendant can’t prevent a fall, it can definitely help prevent the consequences of lying on the floor after a fall. Simply pressing a button to summon help can be fantastic peace of mind in the event of any emergency.