Poor Balance, a Fall, and a Fractured Hip: A Toxic Trio

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Each year, more than 300,000 Americans ages 65 and older are hospitalized after a hip fracture-a break in the top of the thighbone (the femur) below the hip joint-according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly all the fractures happen from a fall and are usually a sign of osteoporosis, or low bone mass.

The year after a hip fracture is a critical time-it’s estimated that 12 to 37 percent of patients don’t survive during that period. Most deaths occur in the first three to six months after sustaining a fracture. Only about one-third of people who break a hip ever fully regain the independence they had before their fracture.

Experts say that maintaining good balance is an important way to help prevent falls, and consequently, reduce the risk of hip fracture.

Older people often have poor balance due to loss of muscle strength and joint flexibility, as well as reduced vision and reaction time. And the risk of inner ear dysfunction, which can throw you off balance, increases with age.

Risk factors for poor balance regardless of age include lack of exercise, alcohol use, obesity, neuropathy (nerve damage) in the lower legs, certain drugs, or even wearing the wrong eyeglasses.

If you notice that you’re having trouble maintaining your balance, talk to your doctor. She or he can check your sense of balance and try to pinpoint the cause of your problem. If vision or inner ear issues are suspected, the doctor can refer you to an ophthalmologist or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.

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