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Simple Steps Can Prevent Falls — And Hip Fractures

By Mark Pressman, MD

Balance issues and weak bones, both of which become more common as you age, increase your risk for falls and fractures — especially hip fractures.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 300,000 Americans aged 65 and older are hospitalized each year for falls that result in a hip fracture.

Experiencing a hip fracture can be a life-changing event, reducing mobility and often leading to a spiraling decline in health. Prompt medical treatment, however, can improve outcomes.

Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center’s (PMC) Hip Fracture Program is designed to treat patients quicker, increasing their chances of making a full recovery.

Women at Greater Risk

As you get older, even a fall from a short distance can easily result in a hip fracture. This is particularly true for women.

Not only are women at greater risk for osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle, than men, but they also tend to lose their balance and fall more, according to the CDC.

As a result, women experience three quarters of all hip fractures, according to the CDC.

A Combination of Factors

Falls are normally caused by a combination of factors, including:

  • Lower body weakness.
  • Dizziness or vertigo that may be caused by medications or other health issue.
  • Trouble with balance and staying on your feet.
  • Difficulty walking.
  • Poor vision.
  • Foot pain or poor footwear.
  • Home hazards, such as loose rugs, electrical cords and wet floors.

If you fall, even if you’re not injured, it is important to let your healthcare provider know so they can review your risks and help prevent falling again.

If you fall and have signs of a hip fracture, call 911 and seek emergency care. Signs of a hip fracture include:

  • Severe hip or groin pain.
  • Inability to put weight on the affected leg.
  • Bruising and swelling around the hip area.
  • A shift in the position of the leg.

Prompt Medical Treatment

In the event of a fall resulting in a hip fracture, prompt medical treatment is important. The longer you wait for treatment, the more medical risks develop, such as health deterioration due to immobility and the possible impact of continuing pain medications on the body.

Many hip fractures require surgical treatment and depending on the type and location of the fracture, the hip is either partially or totally replaced, or a repair procedure can be performed using a minimally invasive x-ray-guided technique.

As part of the Hip Fracture program and PMC, the goal is to have a patient medically stabilized and in surgery within 24 hours of arrival in the Emergency Department.

In addition, the care team uses a multimodal approach to pain management to minimize the use of opiates and reduce the risk for complications such as confusion, delirium and respiratory depression.

Following surgery, most patients will be admitted to the Surgical Care Unit or Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE). Physical therapy, an important part of the recovery process, may begin as early as the same day as surgery.

Many patients are able to be discharged directly to home after their hospital stay, enabling them to recover in a familiar environment where they can get back to their regular activities and regain their strength faster.

Preventing Falls and Fractures

A few simple steps can help reduce your risk for debilitating falls and fractures. These include:

  •  With your doctor’s approval, exercising to promote strong bones and good balance.
  • Keeping bones strong by getting enough calcium, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and
    limiting alcohol consumption.
  • Assessing your home for and removing tripping hazards, such as throw rugs, electrical cords and awkwardly placed furniture.
  • Using a cane or walker if you feel unsteady.
  • Making sure your environment is well lit and your eyesight is at its best.
  • Installing grip bars in your bathroom to improve stability.
  • Taking your time rising from a seated position.
  • Wearing appropriate footwear.
  • Evaluating your medications with your healthcare provider on a regular basis to make sure they’re not causing dizziness.
  • Getting screened for osteoporosis and treated if necessary. Calcium supplements and certain medications can help treat osteoporosis.

Many falls and hip fractures can be prevented, but if you do suffer a hip fracture, seek care immediately. Prompt treatment can reduce your risk for complications so that you can recover faster and return to your normal activities.

To find an orthopaedic surgeon affiliated with Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call 1 (888) 742-7496 or visit www.princetonhcs.org/directory.

Mark Pressman, MD, is a board certified, orthopaedic surgeon on the medical staff of Penn
Medicine Princeton Health.

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