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Falling Is No Small Matter for the Elderly

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • If an elderly person has a fall, they should be taken to seek medical attention immediately because of the risk that complicated and potentially life-threatening injuries may have been sustained.
  • The elderly person should not be moved by anyone other than medical professionals because there is a risk of causing further injury.

 

Experiencing a fall is common and occurs easily among the elderly, due to the deterioration of their body – be it in terms of their brain function, eyesight or musculoskeletal system.

When an elderly person has a fall, one of the often inescapable results is a “bone fracture” due to the degeneration in bone strength that occurs as we enter older age. This leads to a lack of bone mineral density, meaning the bones are easily broken. This is especially the case with regard to the spinal column and bones in the hip or wrist joints which, if broken and not treated properly, could lead to numerous other health complications that may eventually be a danger to the elderly patient’s life.

Hip fractures

One of the most common fractures that affect elderly patients who suffered a fall, hip fractures will display symptoms in the form of hip pain that leads to the patient being unable to place any weight on the area. Some patients will experience bruising at the top of the thigh and suffer irregularities in the lower legs, such as a shortening of one leg and the end of a foot turning outwards. In such cases, immediate medical attention should be sought to carry out additional diagnosis.

Treatment for a hip fracture depends on the location of the fracture and any movement in the affected bone(s):

  1. Femoral neck fracture.
    • If the bone has not moved position, treatment can take the form of a screw which can be inserted to straighten the bone.
    • If the hip bone has been completely displaced, doctors will consider joint replacement surgery.
  2. So-called Intertrochanteric fractures will usually be treated with surgery and the insertion of a metal pin to straighten the internal structure of the bone.

Treatment for hip fractures should be carried out using the appropriate diagnosis techniques, followed by the most suitable treatment as soon as possible. In cases where surgery is required (and patients do not have any conditions preventing surgery), the surgery should be undertaken as quickly as possible.

Post-surgery, patients will be required to undergo physical therapy to assist them with walking and balance, as this will give their body the best chance of making a full and speedy recovery.

Can a hip fracture heal itself?

Elderly patients who suffer a hip fracture should not neglect such an injury. The fractured bones may not be able to repair and heal themselves, and even if they can, they may repair themselves in abnormal positions. In addition, the injury may also cause complications which result from prolonged periods of being bedridden, such as bed sores, urinary tract infections, respiratory infections and blood clots affecting the major arteries located in the legs. All of these are issues that can be avoided through treatment.

Preventing falls in the elderly

  1. Have the elderly person undergo a risk assessment for factors which commonly affect the senior population, such as blurred vision as a result of cataracts, dizziness resulting from a brain disorder, osteoporosis or muscle weakness. If any of these conditions is identified, look for solutions or make a doctor’s appointment to receive treatment for the condition which is increasing the fall risk.
  2. Make adjustments to the elderly person’s surrounding environment to reduce the fall risk, by providing more light in the home and reducing the amount of slippery surfaces or number of stairs to make the home more suitable for an elderly resident.

Which type of fall requires urgent medical attention?

  1. The elderly person is unable to stand or place any weight on their hips.
  2. There is immediate pain, inflammation and an irregular appearance of the affected area.
  3. The elderly person is unable to walk or walks with a limp and is unable to place any weight on the hip.

First aid techniques

  1. Ensure that the fallen elderly patient is laying still where they’ve fallen.
  2. Call an ambulance immediately to receive proper medical attention.

***It is extremely important that the elderly patient is not moved or lifted at all as this could lead to further injury.

Providing comfort and care to the elderly is something which all families should be thinking about, especially in terms of the constant vigilance necessary to prevent them suffering a fall. Do your best to identify any fall risks and make the required home improvements. The result of a fall could be more dangerous than you would ever have imagined. A fall for an elderly person may mean health complications and a deterioration in their quality of life that none of us would like to see happen to a loved one.


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Suwicharn Bamrungchaowkasem, M.D. Summary: Orthopedics Orthopedics