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My mother is recovering from surgery for a broken hip caused by a fall. How can I help her become independent again?


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Finding out the reason for her broken hip is a good first step. Your mother is likely to have osteoporosis. If she has never had a bone density test, it is important that she have one. This is the only way to diagnose osteoporosis. If she has osteoporosis, she needs to talk with her healthcare provider about taking an osteoporosis medication that is right for her. Taking an osteoporosis medicine can help reduce her chance of having another broken bone and prevent bone loss.

One medicine has been specifically tested in patients who have recently broken a hip. This medicine is zoledronic acid (Reclast®). It can reduce the risk of more broken bones and even extend the life of women and men who have broken a hip due to osteoporosis.

Your mother also needs to get 1,200 mg of calcium and 800-1,000 IU of vitamin D every day. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D are important to help keep her bones strong and healthy. Vitamin D not only helps absorb calcium, it plays a role in muscle strength and balance and may help reduce the risk of falling.

If your mother needs to take an osteoporosis medication, it’s still important that she get enough calcium and vitamin D every day. Many older patients are at high risk for not getting enough vitamin D. There is a possibility she might need more vitamin D than the recommended amount above. One way to find out is with a simple blood test of her 25-hydroxyvitamin D level. It is also important for her not to smoke or drink too much alcohol. Smoking and having three or more alcoholic drinks a day are not good for people’s bones.

Rehabilitation and a slow return to exercise are important after breaking a bone, especially a hip bone. At first, walking may be difficult. For this reason, many patients are transferred from a hospital to a rehabilitation facility. A good rehabilitation center has staff specially trained to help your mother become stronger and more active every day. She may start out using a walker to move herself a few steps, but slowly her balance and strength will improve. Then she will likely use a cane for a while. Sometimes this is not easy, as she may have some pain, discomfort and feel tired. She may need to continue physical therapy once she returns home, and that too is important for her recovery.

Before your mother returns home, you may wish to check her home to make sure it is fall-proof. A few basic home safety tips include:

  • Remove all clutter from the floors including loose throw rugs, long electrical cords and phone cords.
  • Install grab bars on bathroom walls beside tubs, showers and toilets.
  • Use 100 watt bulbs in place of low level lighting.
  • Add night lights in the bedroom, hall and bathroom.
  • Make sure your mother wears supportive, low-heeled shoes even at home. She should not walk around in socks, stockings or scuffs. And she should not wear backless shoes or slippers.
  • Consider subscribing to an at-home monitoring service.
  • Use a portable phone in the home. It’s easy to take from room to room. It prevents rushing for the phone when it rings, and it’s handy if there’s a need to call for help.
  • Review all medications with her doctor as some can cause dizziness and increase the chance of falling.

Have your mother talk to her doctor about seeing a physical therapist to check her balance. Balance problems can cause a person to fall. Certain exercises help many people improve their balance. A physical therapist can teach her these exercises. Physical therapy can have many other benefits including improved muscle strength and posture.

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