Weight-bearing joints like hips and knees play a critical role every time you sit or stand. Behind the scenes, your joints work in close coordination so you can move with ease. As you age, however, your joints go through wear and tear and become more susceptible to potentially debilitating injuries, such as hip fractures.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 300,000 Americans over the age of 65 are hospitalized for hip fractures every year. The chances of breaking your hipbone grow with age as conditions like arthritis set in and tear down the protective cartilage lining your bones.
Women are at greater risk for hip fractures than men, with studies showing that they break their hips nearly three times more often than men. Women’s diminished bone density is partially due to declining estrogen levels that occur during menopause.
A combination of weakening bones, poor strength, loss of balance, and cloudy vision that comes with age can lead to a dangerous fall with potentially life-threatening complications. If a hip fracture prevents you from moving for a long period, health complications like blood clots, urinary tract infections, and pneumonia may arise. In particular, blood clots that break off and travel to the lungs can be fatal. This is called pulmonary embolism.
Other complications include muscle atrophy, postoperative infection, bedsores, avascular necrosis, and even mental deterioration following surgery.
Hip pain due to a fracture may range from minor pain in your hip, groin, thigh, and buttock area to more severe cases where pain reaches the knee and impairs your ability to walk. Treating a hip fracture nearly always requires surgical repair through hip replacement. In this surgery, the damaged part will be replaced by an artificial hip joint. After 10–15 years, your prosthetic may need replacing through hip revision surgery.
However, some of the more severe cases of hip fractures never fully heal, and many older adults are unable to regain the level of mobility and independence they once had. Approximately half of those who have had hip fractures require some kind of mobility assistance like a walker or cane.
Fortunately, making healthy lifestyle choices early on can make a difference in reducing the risk factors of a hip fracture in your later years. To strengthen your bones, getting enough calcium and Vitamin D is key. Individuals age 50 and above should consume 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 600 international units of Vitamin D a day. Staying active is also important. Focus more on strengthening your bones and improving your balance.
If you’re already in your later years, it’s useful to fall-proof your home by adding grips or handlebars on your bathroom walls, particularly beside the toilet as well as the inside and outside of your shower. Clear any objects in your house that can cause you to fall over, and tape electrical cords to walls. Consider putting railings on both sides of the stairs.
Talk to your doctor to evaluate your risk and the actions you can take like having your eyes checked at least once a year, getting screened for osteoporosis, and having your medications reviewed. Sometimes, certain drugs or combinations of drugs may induce dizziness. Ask your doctor if it’s possible to lower the dose or if there are alternatives.