Elderly People and Broken/Fractured Hips: A Deadly Problem

Every year, more than a quarter of a million seniors are hospitalized following a hip fracture. It’s a common but serious problem, as the recovery process is long and slow. In many cases, the patient won’t recover at all.

How Serious are Hip Fractures in the Elderly?

A senior is more than twice as likely to die within a decade if they have suffered from a hip fracture.

This research may not be as scary as it initially seems. After all, it’s fair to assume that many people who suffer from a hip fracture have serious mobility problems and may also suffer from late stage dementia, Parkinson’s, and other conditions that impact their health and their longevity.

What is worrying, however, is that more than a fifth of fracture patients die within 12 months. Again, there could be extenuating circumstances at play that don’t necessarily mean that you have a 1 in 5 chance of dying, but it’s definitely a genuine concern and something that’s not to be taken lightly.

Seniors have lower bone density, less muscle mass, and a severely reduced ability to recover. They may take medications that impact the recovery process or have joint issues that aggravate the condition. 

In addition, they are more likely to suffer from one of the following conditions, all of which can affect the healing process:

  • Dementia: Memory problems, confusion, and disorientation increase a dementia patient’s risk. They may forget that they have an issue and suffer another fall or accident, exacerbating the issue and slowing the recovery process.
  • Bad Diet: A healthy, balanced diet is essential for hastening the recovery process, as it ensures that one gets all the nutrients their body needs. 
  • Lack of Exercise: Regular exercise helps to strengthen the bones and muscles, creating resistance, improving stability and balance, and reducing the risk of falls and fractures, while potentially accelerating the recovery process.
  • Medications: Some drugs, including sedatives and narcotic painkillers, increase the fall risk. Others may weaken the bones and slow down recovery.
  • Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes may impede healing while increasing the risk of post-surgical complications.

The Recovery Process

It takes just 4 to 6 weeks to recover from a hip fracture, but in the presence of complications and preexisting illnesses, it can take up to 6 months. The patient needs to be very careful when moving around the home, as another fall could lead to serious complications and prolonged recovery.

At the same time, however, gentle exercise is important, as prolonged immobility and bed rest increases the risk of bedsores, blood clots, and other issues.

How to Prevent Hip Fractures

Hip fractures are common, but they are not inevitable. There are a few ways you can reduce the risk, including:

  • Vision Tests and Appropriate Glasses: Eye problems become increasingly common with age. It’s important to get regular eye checks and to make sure you wear suitable glasses.
  • Mobility Aids: A few grab bars, anti-slip mats, and a cane or walker can make it easier and safer to perform activities of daily living, including washing, using the toilet, and getting dressed. Mobility aids don’t need to be expensive and oftentimes, the simplest solutions are the most effective.
  • Regular Exercise: Resistance exercise and core-strengthening techniques will aid with balance and strength, preventing falls and making the body more resistant to harm.
  • Remove Trip Hazards: Don’t trail cables across the floor. Re-think the placement of rugs and move coffee tables to the corner of the room. 
  • Move Slowly: Don’t stand up too quickly and don’t run the bathwater too hot. It’s important to prevent rapid changes in blood pressure and dizziness and to take a seat as soon as you feel a dizzy spell coming on.
  • Limit Alcohol Intake: Even moderate alcohol consumption can impede your balance and increase the risk of trips and falls in the home. Excessive alcohol consumption over a prolonged period also affects bone density.

Symptoms of a Fractured Hip

If your loved one or care recipient recently had a fall, look out for the following symptoms:

  • Struggling to move their legs
  • Severe bruising or swelling around the hip area
  • The leg sticking out at a strange angle
  • The injured leg looking shorter than the other
  • Stiffness in the hip
  • Pain in the hip

Other Hip Problems in the Elderly

Over 300,000 hip replacement surgeries are performed every year in the United States, and a study published a decade ago noted that around 2.5 million Americans were living with artificial hips at the time. 

It is the most common joint replacement operation in the US, and hips in general are some of the most injured and the most problematic joints for elderly Americans.

Hip problems can be caused by:

  • Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are two of the most common causes of hip pain in the elderly. They can cause inflammation in the joint and breakdown the cartilage, which otherwise helps to cushion the hip bones.
  • Bursitis: Caused by an inflammation of the bursae, which are small fluid sacs that help to ease the friction caused by the repeated rubbing of bones, tendons, and muscles.
  • Wear and Tear: Excessive use can cause strains and conditions like tendinitis. Over many years, these cause serious problems and create pain and mobility issues for the patient. Hip problems are common in fit and active people and are often reported in athletes and former athletes.
  • Cancer: Bone cancer can cause constant pain in the bones of the hip, as well as other parts of the body.
  • Labral Tear: An important cartilage that protects the hip joint and can become damaged following repetitive use. Due to the repeated hip flexion, these problems are more common in people who play soccer, football, and hockey.