BOSTON — When elderly people break their hips, the road back to full recovery is often long, and sometimes endless.
The elderly, especially women, are prone to hip fractures as their bones become thin with age. One in 20 women can be expected to suffer at least one hip fracture.
By the year 2000, experts estimate that there will be at least half a million hip fractures every year in the United States.
In an effort to evaluate the recovery of hip fracture patients, researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital followed 75 patients admitted to the hospital with hip fractures to determine how they fared over the next year.
5 Die in Hospital
The patients, who averaged just under 80, were hospitalized for an average of 21.7 days. Five percent of the patients died while in the hospital.
Of the survivors, 32% were discharged directly to their homes while 40% went to a rehabilitation hospital.
Eleven patients admitted to the hospital from nursing homes returned to them along with 12% of the patients originally admitted to the hospital from their own homes.
At the end of a year, just over 74% of the survivors were living at home, but the overall mortality rate had risen to 29%.
Among the patients who survived, efforts to restore their condition to the level before the fracture was disappointing, even though the researchers tried an experimental, intensive rehabilitation program.
Only 33% of the patients completely regained basic capabilities such as the ability to get from a bed to a chair, get dressed and walk around indoors.
Just 21% of the patients totally regained more complicated abilities, such as climbing stairs, preparing meals, doing dishes and light housework, and walking outdoors.
And only 26% completely regained former social functions, such as taking care of or visiting other people, using public transportation and going food shopping.
Other Medical Problems
Alan M. Jette, director of the graduate program in physical therapy at the hospital's Institute of Health Professions who headed the study, said elderly patients are particularly frail and often have other medical problems that complicate their recovery.
"All of them had other problems," said Jette, whose study was published in the October issue of the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. "Many of those problems made it very difficult for them to recover."
About half the patients in the study had osteoarthritis while a third had high blood pressure and urinary tract infections.