Hip Fracture Symptoms and Recovery
For most of your life, a simple slip and fall leads to some discomfort, a few bruises, and maybe a bit of embarrassment (based on who’s around to see). As a senior, it can bring about much bigger consequences. Every year about 250,000 seniors have to be hospitalized due to hip fractures, almost all of which occur when a senior falls.
You probably already have some idea that a broken hipbone is something to fear – 80% of senior women have said they’d rather be dead than stuck in a nursing home with a broken hip. Yikes! It can be bad, but it doesn’t have to be worse-than-death level bad.
What is a Hip Fracture?
Hip fracture is another way to say “broken hip.” You know where your hip is located physically, that’s one of the early lessons kids are taught in school, but you might not think much of the bones behind the skin. Your hip is the ball-and-socket joint where your femur and pelvic bone meet. A hip fracture occurs when any part of the femur breaks.
The Risks Associated with Hip Fractures in the Elderly
A hip fracture itself is painful, but the biggest problems a broken hip will cause for seniors have to do with the healing process.
Hip fractures almost always require surgery to treat, and surgery brings with it more dangers for seniors than for the general population. The effects of anesthesia are heightened for seniors. Going under can cause serious side effects, especially for residents of nursing homes. Routine surgeries can also commonly cause infections and other complications in seniors that bring them back to the hospital for re-admittance within a month.
Even if all goes well with the surgery, seniors will have a period of extremely limited mobility while they’re healing. Everyone’s familiar with the regular advice to get plenty of exercise – the results of the immobility that hip fractures cause provide us with a clear picture of just how meaningful that advice is.
Being stuck in bed (or on your couch) can lead to very unpleasant day-to-day problems, including:
- Painful bedsores
- Blood clots
Those will all make your days worse, but the lack of movement can also contribute to some serious issues that cause death in the long term, such as:
- Heart disease
When your doctor encourages you to get some movement and exercise into your life ASAP after breaking a hip, they mean it. Women in their late 60’s are over five times as likely to die within a year of breaking a hip as their peers, and women in their 70’s are twice as likely. It’s not the fractured hip itself that kills them, it’s the worsening of diseases they already had, like heart disease and diabetes, due to mobility issues.
Why Are Hip Fractures Common in the Elderly?
As you age, your bones get weaker. This is especially true for women who disproportionately suffer from osteoporosis in their later years – 20% of 70-year old women are believed to have it, with the percentage going up as age increases. Seniors also experience more difficulty with balance and vision, two factors that, especially if combined, make falls more likely.
Seniors are therefore both more likely to fall to begin with, and more likely to break a bone anytime a fall occurs. And, as already discussed, the elderly are also at increased risk of problems that may occur during treatment and recovery.
Lest that all sound hopeless, there are seniors that bounce back after a hip fracture. And plenty who manage to live out their senior years without ever experiencing a fall to begin with.
Treatments for a Broken Hip
The moment you sense you may have a hip fracture – and the pain will give you a pretty good head’s up to what’s going on – you need to get to the hospital ASAP. When your hip is broken, it’s likely you won’t be able to walk at all due to the pain and that you’ll experience some inflammation and bruising in your hip area. You may also notice that one leg appears shorter than the other.
When you get to the doctor, they’ll most likely recommend that you have surgery on your hip within the first 24 hours. In most cases, doctors will set you up for an arthroplasty, which involves replacing the damaged parts of the joint (sometimes all of it) with artificial parts.
After the surgery, most seniors will spend the first few days of recovery in the hospital, with the recommended physical therapy starting within a couple of days. The length of recovery varies considerably for different people, and in some cases a hip fracture is the inciting factor for lengthy stays at rehabilitation centers or nursing homes.
Whatever happens, try to work movement and exercise into your days as soon as possible and keep up with it. It won’t be comfortable, but it well may make the difference to living beyond that first year after your break.
What You Can Do To Prevent a Hip Fracture
If you get a hip fracture, it is possible to move past the treatment phase and back to normal life. But clearly it’s better never to get a hip fracture to being with, if you can pull it off.
The most important preventative steps you can take are all designed to ward off osteoporosis:
- Make sure to get plenty of calcium in your diet
- Take supplements with vitamin D and calcium, especially if you’re at risk of osteoporosis
- Eat a diet high in protein
- Do balance exercises
- Do weight training exercises
- Ask your doctor about osteoporosis – if you know you have it sooner rather than later, you can take steps to treat it
You can also make a lot of changes to your living space to reduce the risk of a fall.. Consider:
- Removing any rugs or other items you keep low to the ground that could cause you to trip.
- Adding more lighting to any areas that are dark now. You can use stick-on tap lights to easily add light to your stairs, dark closets, or anywhere else you need the extra illumination.
- Adding grab bars to the bathroom so getting in and out of the shower is easier and less risky
- If you have stairs, putting railings along both sides of them.
- Getting a remote or clapper for your lights to make turning them on easier.
- Making sure all the kitchen items you use are within easy reach. And don’t try standing on chairs to get to things, ask for help instead.
If you focus on staying healthy, being proactive with your doctor, and making sure your home is designed to avoid falls, the chances of dealing with all the negative side effects of a hip fracture diminish considerably. A broken hip isn’t the end of the world, but living without one is far preferable. Take the necessary precautions so you can (hopefully) stay mobile and healthy in the years you have left.