Fractures can be life changing as you age.
Falls are serious at any stage in life, and breaking a bone after a fall becomes more likely as a person ages. Hip and vertebrae fractures have significant effects on both mobility and well-being. Hip fractures increase exponentially with age, and in the elderly are often the result of a fall combined with underlying osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes loss of bone density, leaving bones frail and vulnerable.
Although statistics are variable things, for an elderly person living an independent life, somewhere between 15 to 25 percent require long-term placement afterward a hip fracture. The number who consequently die in the 12 months after falling and breaking their hip can approach 20 percent.
Hence the importance of preventing falls where possible.
The More Common Causes of Falls
Falls have multiple causes, many of which can come into play for any individual. It may be as simple as tripping over a rug or slipping on a wet floor. Outside the house, an uneven surface, an unnoticed step, or a hole or dip in the footpath are all potential hazards.
Balance tends to deteriorate with age, and can prove difficult to regain. Many factors besides muscle strength come into play. Something as minor as a middle ear infection can affect balance, while diseases such as diabetes can cause decreased sensation in the limbs, affecting both balance and coordination. Reflexes and reaction time slow with the passing years, making it harder for a person to regain their balance following an unexpected stumble.
Cataracts, macular degeneration, or diseases such as diabetes will all affect how well a person sees. Even glasses can cause problems: bifocal and multifocal lenses affect distance perception, especially when going down an incline or steps.
Other illness can combine to limit mobility. Stokes are an obvious example, but heart and lung disease, or problems with blood circulation in the limbs are other causes. Arthritic joints make it difficult to weight bear when walking. Some medications can cause drowsiness or affect balance, and alcohol can be a culprit at any age.
Some Ways to Reducing the Risk of a Fall
Exercise will help maintain mobility and stability – and confidence, which is so often shaken after a fall. Loss of muscle mass and strength often creates a vicious cycle. Weakness limits a person’s mobility, resulting in more muscle loss and weakness.
Proper eyewear is important, as are shoes. Rubber or non-slip soles are preferable, as are enclosed heels, (to prevent tripping over a flapping shoe). Avoid walking in socks or stockings, and use a stick if you need to.
Changes around the home can help to make walking safer. Remove rugs which be tripped over, or else secure the ends, especially if they are used to cover a slippery surface. If possible, put handrails on either side of stairs, as well as shower rails or even seats if necessary. Shower and bath mats help with slipping on wet floors.
Tidy away any cords which can be easily tripped over. Make sure there are no edges on furniture which may cause a problem. Keep a torch by the bed, so you never need to walk in the dark.
If dizziness is a problem, it may help if you take your time when rising from lying to a sitting position. Wait a few minutes for the dizziness to pass before standing; wait again before moving.
Take care to drink enough fluid in the heat of summer; dehydration, fatigue and not eating well can all result in dizziness and a fall. Alcohol may render you incredibly witty, but it also slows reflexes and response time, impairs judgment and impairs balance.
Strange as it sounds, if you fall, try to fall backwards onto your bottom, which will provide some padding. Falling sideways or at an angle is more likely to result in a broken hip. Try to break your fall with your arms – no one likes a broken arm, but it has less impact than a broken hip.
Not all falls are preventable, but taking to steps (sic!) can help reduce their likelihood, and help keep you on your feet and moving.
Of course, fractures do happen – and when they do, it’s very important that your recovery receives good fracture management to ensure the best outcome.