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Fall Prevention and Osteoporosis

Fall Prevention and Osteoporosis Introduction

Osteoporosis (or porous bone) is a disease in which bones become less dense, resulting in weak bones that are more likely to break. Without prevention or treatment, osteoporosis can progress without pain or symptoms until a bone breaks (fractures). Fractures associated with osteoporosis can take a long time to heal and can cause permanent disability.

  • Fractures commonly occur in the hip, spine, and wrist.
  • Osteoporosis is the underlying cause of more than 1.5 million fractures annually (300,000 hip fractures, approximately 700,000 vertebral fractures, 250,000 wrist fractures, and more than 300,000 fractures in other areas).
  • The estimated national cost (hospitals and nursing homes) for osteoporosis and related injuries is $14 billion each year in the United States.

Osteoporosis is not just an "old woman's disease." Although it is more common in white or Asian women older than 50 years of age, osteoporosis can occur in almost any person at any age. In fact, more than 2 million American men have osteoporosis, and in women, bone loss can begin as early as 25 years of age. Anyone with osteoporosis, male or female, young or old, is at risk for broken bones from falls. However, most falls do occur among elderly women.

Because osteoporosis has no symptoms, people may not be aware that they have decreased bone density (osteopenia) or osteoporosis. Falls are especially dangerous for people who do not know they have weak or less solid bones. If a bone does break from a fall, a person's activities may be limited while the bone is healing. Surgery or a heavy cast may be necessary, and physical therapy may be required to resume normal activities.

Three factors are related to whether or not a bone breaks from a fall: the fall itself, the force and direction of the fall, and how fragile the bones are. Prevention of falls is very important for people with osteoporosis because of their fragile bones. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

  • of all broken hips, more than 90% are associated with osteoporosis;
  • falling is the cause of the fracture in nine out of 10 older Americans with a broken hip;
  • a hip fracture makes an elderly person 5%-20% more likely to die in the first year after this injury than other elderly people;
  • of elderly people living without assistance before a hip fracture, 15%-25% will need care in long-term care institutions (nursing home, assisted living) a year after their fracture;
  • most falls happen to women in their own homes in the afternoon.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/21/2012

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Osteoporosis »

Osteoporosis is a systemic skeletal disorder characterized by decreased bone mass and deterioration of bony microarchitecture.

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