Hip fractures are painful and debilitating, and unfortunately, they often happen to the elderly. Those of a more advanced age have more brittle, less dense bones, which puts them at an increased risk from falling or even from everyday wear and tear. There are hundreds of thousands of hip fractures in the United States every year, more than 90% of which affect those over the age of 60.
The hip is one of the largest joints in the body, and bears an enormous amount of our weight; it’s also largely responsible for motions such as walking, running, jumping, and climbing. When people mention a hip fracture, it generally means a breakage in the femur (the thighbone) near the joint. Depending on the severity, and on other factors such as age and the presence of osteoporosis, there can be a partial fracture or a whole break, one fracture or multiple. Regardless, it’s a serious injury that requires immediate attention.
Osteoporosis, or weakening of the bones as they become thinner and more porous with age, is very common amongst older adults. Bones are more fragile, so even a minor fall or trauma to the hip can cause a break; these traumas are also more likely to occur to an older person because they tend to have weaker muscles and lose coordination skills. Experiencing a hip fracture increases the risk of other breakages, as well as mortality, than people who don’t experience one.
Aside from the obvious difficulties that a broken hip creates, such as making it difficult or impossible to walk around, it also puts the patient at risk for other complications – and these are especially likely for elderly patients. Blood clots and pneumonia can both form, and muscles become even weaker when they’re out of use for an extended period of time, making recovery difficult. If prolonged, the pain can lead to trouble sleeping, confusion, or depression. One concern in older patients is the effect of dementia: people who suffer from dementia are often unable to communicate to their caregivers exactly how much pain they’re in, where it hurts, or if they are experiencing new symptoms. Special attention should be paid to dementia patients recovering from a broken hip.
Unusual difficulty walking, pain in the hips or thighs, or a recent fall are all symptoms of a fractured hip in elderly patients; they should seek medical treatment right away.