Preventing Bone Fractures as We Age

By Ian Kane

As we age, we tend to become more sedentary. Too much sitting can result in a loss of pressure being applied to your bones. When bones don’t get as much of a workout, they can become less dense, more brittle, and susceptible to breaks.

Many older people also don’t think about breaking bones as a significant issue. It’s younger folks who are always bounding about and breaking arms and legs, after all. While it’s true that many children and adults do experience broken bones, according to a National Institute of Health study, people who are 50 years and older are more at risk than their younger counterparts.

But bone strength, not just a person’s level of activity, can play a crucial role in the risk of sustaining fractures. People with stronger bones are more likely to withstand impacts without injury. On the other side—even minor bumps can shatter fragile bones.

Even if you’re an older person who takes a bad fall but doesn’t suffer any severe injuries (such as cranial injuries and hip fractures), these incidents can take a toll on your self-confidence. A fear of falling can sometimes deter older folks from going through their normal daily routines and prevent them from enjoying their usual pastimes. This can result in an overall decline in their physical and mental health as well as their overall quality of life.

If you suffer from osteoporosis, which according to the National Library of Medicine is a major concern for older folks, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll inevitably injure yourself.

Make bone health a priority to prevent broken bones. Even if your physician prescribes some medicine meant to help your bones, you should still take proactive steps to lessen the chance of sustaining injury-causing accidents.

Many people don’t live bone-healthy lifestyles—they don’t engage in regular exercise or get enough vitamin D, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, and other bone-strengthening nutrients. So here are some tips on building up bone strength and minimizing the possibility of bone-breaking accidents.

Get Regular Exercise

Many older adults—especially those with osteoporosis—worry about the risks associated with working out. And that’s understandable since sitting for lengthy periods of time would seem to make one less susceptible to falling, as opposed to walking or jogging down the street.

However, regular exercise can drastically reduce your chances of falling. Exercise keeps your body stronger, your reflexes sharper, and your body more stabilized and balanced. That makes a big difference in your long-term ability to get up from sitting or get out of the bath.

Your bones are living tissue. If you engage in regular exercise, you’ll strengthen your muscles and make your bones more resilient. And with better balance and flexibility, you’ll be less likely to fall down.

An effective exercise routine includes resistance training (such as lifting weights or using resistance bands), and engaging in bodyweight exercises and other activities that involve balance, coordination, and flexibility (such as yoga, barre, and tai chi).

And since your core and lower body muscles greatly help with your balance and hold your body up, injuring any of the bones in these areas can have more severe consequences than a broken arm. Therefore, dancing, or simply walking, are great options to start with if you’ve not kept up your physical fitness. And if you have, they are complementary to any of the exercises above.

Just be sure to talk to your doctor before you start an exercise routine. And be aware that some exercises are better than others in terms of bone health. For example, workouts that involve high-impact movements, (such as running or basketball), and non-weight activities (such as biking or swimming) are both linked to lower bone mineral density.

Make Your Home Fall Safe

Many people treat their homes as safety areas where they don’t have to be as concerned about sustaining falls and other accidents, as compared to when they are out and about. But that’s a false assumption. To minimize the risk of falling at home, consider the following:

  • Always check that your carpets and rugs have skid-proof backings or are firmly attached to the solid flooring underneath them. Especially on stairs.
  • Ensure that you use nonslip sprays or permanent nonslip surfaces to provide additional traction on the floors of showers and bathtubs.
  • Keep every room in your home free of clutter, especially the floors. Furniture should never block walkways and should be easy to maneuver around. Major trip hazards include unsecured or exposed electrical cords and children’s toys (since they can pop up anywhere at any time).
  • Be sure to wait until floors are completely dry after mopping them.
  • Stairways should be adequately lit and have sturdy handrails on both sides.
  • Consider installing grab bars on bathroom walls inside of bathtubs, showers, and next to toilets. For those who have fatigue issues or are unstable on their feet, consider using shower chairs or transfer benches while bathing.
  • Make sure all light switches are located near the entry points of every room in your home to prevent searching for them in the dark. You can also install voice-based (or sound-recognition) lighting systems.
  • Post nightlights in areas you tend to visit during nocturnal hours, such as bedrooms, bathrooms, and any hallways in between.
  • Keep a flashlight by your bed.
  • Keep your cellphone by your bed in case of any emergencies. This is also good for being able to call 911 in case of any potential security concerns.

Treat Existing Health Conditions

Many people don’t consider simple things such as vision issues, or mild circulation issues such as low blood pressure (which can cause occasional dizziness and balance concerns), to be risk factors for falls.

But these and other long-term medical problems can affect your strength and raise the chances of a bad fall. For example, arthritis can make it hard to move around, and vision problems can make it more likely you’ll trip.

If you have any existing health concerns or conditions, ask your doctor if they could raise your risk of a fall. If they do, find out what kind of treatment options are available to you. And always make sure to get regular checkups with your primary care doctor and any other specialists you require.

Get the Right Shoes

The right shoes are more about function than fashion. If you wear an improper pair of shoes, the chances of having a bad fall increase.

Shoes that have low heels offer more support. Also consider a pair that have rubber soles, since they’re less likely to slip on slick surfaces, as opposed to leather-soled shoes.

When outdoors, try to stick to walking on rougher surfaces such as dirt or grass—you’re less likely to slip than when attempting to traverse over wood or paved surfaces. Snowy or icy areas should be inundated with salt or sand before being trod upon.

When indoors, it’s a good idea to wear a pair of non-slip shoes. Your chance of slipping and falling increases if you’re wearing slippers or socks—especially on hard surfaces such as polished wood.

If you have any existing medical conditions, such as arthritis, utilize whatever mobility aid you’ve been prescribed by your physical therapist or doctor in conjunction with the right shoes. Being healthy and injury-free always trumps trying to look “cool.” This brings us to our final tip.

Yes, Use Mobility Aids

Generally speaking, many folks can be reluctant to accept the use of medically prescribed mobility aids, let alone use them consistently. For older folks, these devices can play a crucial role in helping them to lead safely active lives and continue to enjoy their favorite pastimes. Therefore, it’s of utmost importance to properly utilize any mobility aid you’ve been assigned (whether that be a walker, cane, etc.).

Certified occupational therapists and physical therapists can (after an assessment) recommend the type of mobility aid that suits each individual and their needs. A key factor here is to learn how to properly use these aids and use them consistently.

Ian Kane is an U.S. Army veteran, author, filmmaker, and actor. He is dedicated to the development and production of innovative, thought-provoking, character-driven films and books of the highest quality. You can check out his health blog at IanKaneHealthNut.com