Each year, more than 1.6 million seniors end up in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. Among senior adults, falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injuries resulting in deaths. Fractures caused by falls can lead to hospital stays and disability. Most fall-related fractures occur in the hip, pelvis, spine, arm, hand or ankle.
Hip fractures are one of the most serious types of fall injury. They are a leading cause of injury and loss of independence, among older adults. Most healthy, independent older adults who are hospitalized for a broken hip are able to return home or live on their own after treatment and rehabilitation. But those who cannot return home and live on their own will need long-term care.
You can help prevent fractures by maintaining the strength of your bones. Having healthy bones won’t stop you from falling, but if you do fall, healthy bones can prevent hip or other fractures that may lead to a hospital or nursing home stay, disability, or even death. Thin bones, as a result of osteoporosis, are more likely to break. Osteoporosis is the major cause of fractures in women past menopause. It also affects older men. If bones are fragile, even a minor fall can cause fractures.
How To Keep Your Bones Strong
1. Get Enough Calcium. At any age, you can take steps to keep your bones strong. Be sure to consume adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Women over age 50 should consume 1,200 mg of calcium daily. Men between the ages of 51 and 70 should consume 1,000 mg of calcium a day, and men over 70 should consume 1,200 mg per day. This can be done by eating calcium-rich foods and taking calcium supplements.
Good dietary sources of calcium are:
- dairy products such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese
- orange juice, cereals, and other foods fortified with calcium
- dark green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collard greens, and bok choy
- sardines, salmon with bones, soybeans, tofu, and nuts such as almonds.
2. Get Enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Exposure to sunlight causes your body to make vitamin D. However, many older people don’t get enough vitamin D this way. Eating foods with vitamin D and taking supplements can help.
As you grow older, your need for vitamin D increases. People ages 51 to 70 should consume at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. People over age 70 should consume at least 800 IUs daily.
Foods rich in vitamin D include Herring, sardines, salmon, tuna, liver, eggs, and fortified milk. Vitamin D supplements may also be needed. Talk with your doctor about how much vitamin D you need. Taking too much may be harmful.
More Ways To Maintain Your Bone Health
Exercise. Physical activity is another way to keep your bones strong. Try to get a total of at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Find time for activities like walking, dancing, stair climbing, gardening, and weight-lifting.
Exercise to improve your balance and strengthen your muscles to help prevent falls. Not wearing bifocal or multifocal glasses when you walk, especially on stairs, will make you less likely to fall. You can also make your home safer by removing loose rugs, adding handrails to stairs and hallways, and making sure you have adequate lighting in dark areas.
Falls are not an inevitable part of life, even as a person gets older. You can take action to prevent falls. Your doctor or other health care providers can help you decide what changes will help.
Bone Density Test. Talk with your doctor about having a bone density test. This safe, painless test assesses your bone health and risk of future fractures. Medicare and many private insurers cover this test for eligible people. Women over age 65 and all men over 70 should have a bone density test.
Medications. Your doctor can also advise you about whether you should consider taking prescription medications to improve bone health. These medications can slow bone loss, improve bone density, and lessen the risk of fractures.
Quit Smoking and Limit Alcohol Intake. Other ways to maintain bone health include quitting smoking and limiting alcohol use. Smoking and heavy alcohol use can decrease bone mass and increase the chance of fractures. Also, maintain a healthy weight. Being underweight increases the risk of bone loss and broken bones.
You are never too old to improve your bone health. A diet that includes enough calcium, vitamin D, and physical activity can help prevent bone loss and fractures. You can also have your bone density tested. Ask your doctor about supplements or other medicines to strengthen your bones if needed.