Improving hip health to maintain independence

Ask any senior what qualities they treasure the most and they are likely to answer independence and mobility. LGBT seniors are likely to value these qualities even more.

Many of us have reached senior status without having established traditional family relationships. We often don’t have children and our parents and partners may have passed on. So whether by choice or chance, we have established routines that require the maximum amount of independence to survive. And that means having the mobility that allows us to meet the basics required for a successful, fully rounded life, including personal care, homemaking, shopping, going to the gym, volunteering and enjoying the cultural and social advantages of city life. 

Ask any senior what medical emergency they dread the most and they are likely to answer a broken hip. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 250,000 people over the age of 65 are hospitalized for hip fractures each year and, as the population ages, the incidence of these fractures is on the rise. Hip fractures usually result from a fall in and around the home, on the street or in nursing homes.

Any other broken limb can cause major inconvenience and expense, but nothing compares with the disruption that can result from a broken hip. Almost every type of hip fracture requires either hip replacement or hip-repair surgery. Today, these medical procedures are relatively routine and safe. But follow-up care involves lengthy periods of rehabilitation, and possibly an extended stay in an assisted-living facility or a nursing home.

The recovery process can take months and involve intensive physical and occupational therapy, but with no guarantee of fully regaining mobility. A senior may recover enough to return home, but still require caregiving assistance. Weeks or months of immobility can worsen existing medical conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, or create new ones, like bed sores. It is estimated that within a year of a hip fracture and subsequent treatment, about 25 percent of patients die, either from complications or previously existing medical problems. A further complication is that losing precious independence and mobility can frequently lead to social isolation and depression.

And then consider the costs involved — ambulance, emergency room, surgery, medication, long-term rebab, possible in-patient assisted living and/or nursing home, followed by in-home care. It can all add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and deal an economic blow that even those with Medicare or the best private insurance may struggle to deal with. 

Obviously, hip fractures are most prevalent among those over the age of 65, who may be dealing with weakened or delicate bones. There can be many reasons for this, such as heredity and lack of exercise, but the most common medical cause is osteoporosis, a disease of the bone tissue that makes bones fragile enough to break easily. It can typically be traced to a deficiency of calcium and Vitamin D. Women are more prone to broken hips because they experience more severe bone-tissue deterioration due to the depletion of estrogen that starts with the onset of menopause (nearly 75 percent of hip fractures occur in women).

Your regular visits with your medical providers should include discussion and evaluation of your bone tissue, including the presence of calcium and vitamin D. Follow your doctor’s advice about how to maintain the desirable levels of these two important markers either through dietary adjustments or the use of supplements. Two other factors that can lead to the weakening of bone structure also may need to be addressed: excessive weight and lack of exercise. 

If you value your independence and mobility, there is also a lot you can do on your own to avoid the disruption and expense of hip fracture. Exercises such as Tai Chi can build stronger legs and improve your balance. You can safety-proof your home to eliminate tripping/falling hazards such as loose rugs, electrical cords, path-blocking furniture and other clutter. Grab bars and non-slip mats are a must for the bathroom. Don’t scrimp on lighting fixtures and bulbs. Keep it bright indoors, rather than stumbling around in semi-darkness. Finally, get regular eye checkups to make sure you can see where you’re going clearly. According to the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, the correction of eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma can lower the odds of fractures in patients over 65. 

*Disclaimer: Information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem.

Joseph Quinn is a retired technical writer and editor. A resident of Philadelphia, he volunteers his time with William Way LGBT Community Center and the LGBT Elder Initiative. To comment on this article, suggest topics for future articles or for more information, visit or email the LGBTEI at [email protected].

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