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Pet Pals Trip Up: Older Friends Take the Fall

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There were 39 million injury-related visits to the emergency room last year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  And 300,000 of those were hip fractures in 65+ year old adults that resulted in a hospital stay, and a good share of these were because the dog’s bark may have been worse than its bite!  The older adults who have been walking their “best friends” are prime victims for fractures – mostly hip fractures – owing to an overly-exuberant four-legged friend.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania looking at the causes of the injuries.  While still only a bit more than one percent of all fractures nation-wide, the number of hip injuries caused by Fido pulling too hard on the leash have nearly tripled between 2004 and 2017.  And this is just the first step, if you will, toward diminished health and quality of life for older adults who make the fateful fall to the sidewalk.

Picture the recovery trajectory of a “normal hip hospitalization.”  By normal I mean that a patient has the relatively common wearing of the bursa of the hip which leads to pain that can only be relieved by surgically replacing the head of the hip.  It takes anywhere from one to six months and physical rehab to fully recover from hip replacement surgery.

But other research shows that at least one in four who have a fractured hip will die within one year of the event.  It is not the fracture so much as the incapacity and loss of one’s ability to do an array of normal activities of daily living like walking, sitting and rising, reaching to high places and more.  But you can help your older loved one, especially if mom or dad has a dog:

  1. Encourage your older loved one to talk with their physician at the next appointment to evaluate their risk for imbalance problems and perhaps encourage a vitamin D supplement to strengthen bones.
  2. Get your loved one screened for bone density and risk for osteoporosis. Even before adding the canine, brittle bones are a risk factor.
  3. Sign your older loved one up with a balance and strengthening class like Thai Chi. No way mom will do that, you say; so sign up with them.
  4. Have your loved one’s vision checked to be sure they are not an accident waiting to happen, because they cannot clearly navigate their surroundings.
  5. I add this “non-medical” suggestion. Pets can be extremely good therapy, so by no means should you discourage an older loved one from adopting a furry friend.  Take the next step, however, and have a professional help train that loyal companion to work with mom or dad.

Please also do a keyword search of my blog to find more suggestions on how to help your older loved one get and stay fit.  This one is an example of how to help with a better walking gait as a basic approach to better health.   Then, just add the dog!  And yes, the one in the picture belongs to our household.

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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