Doctors at Dublin’s Mater hospital say a national strategy is needed to cope with the burden that hip fractures will place on the health system as Ireland’s population ages and life expectancy increases.
They predict a doubling in the annual number of hip fractures in less than 20 years, and warn that facilities are struggling to cope. There are just over 2,800 fractures a year, but this will exceed 5,700 by 2026.
Ireland has no national strategy for the diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis, even though an estimated 90% of hip fractures are due to the brittle-bone disease. The audit found that women over 50 are three times more likely to suffer broken hips than men.
“The prevalence of osteoporosis is increasing all the time,” said Kevin Mulhall, an orthopaedic surgeon in the Mater and an author of the study published in Osteoporosis International. “On the surgical side we are seeing increasing numbers of fragility fractures. Because of osteoporosis, the bone is fragile so it fractures.
“People suffer a lot with a hip fracture. It’s a serious trauma for an older person and the results afterwards can be pretty devastating for them in terms of their level of independence.”
According to the Irish Osteoporosis Society, one in five people aged 60 or over who fracture a hip will die within six to 12 months due to the secondary complications of osteoporosis. These include blood clots, pneumonia or infection from being bed bound. Half of them will no longer be able to dress, wash or walk unassisted. Only 30% will regain their independence.
Mulhall said: “The whole idea is to try and get continuous care where the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of fractures is all improved.”
Before the study, there were no figures on how many hip fractures occur each year in Ireland. The Irish Osteoporosis Society estimates the government spends €420m a year on fractures suffered by senior citizens. This is estimated to rise by up to €2 billion by 2030.
Michelle O’Brien of the society said: “The average hip costs approximately ¤15,000. Including rehabilitation it is ¤26,000. Yet a scan for osteoporosis costs on average ¤100 and takes eight minutes. In the majority of people the condition is preventable, and it is treatable.”
Earlier this month the charity launched a new radio campaign, fronted by presenter Craig Doyle, to point out that good nutrition can help prevent osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercise is also advised.
Robin Webster, chief executive of Age Action, said: “One of the problems with falls is that they take older people’s confidence. Rehabilitation is critically important. They become prisoners in their own homes because they are not sure – they worry if they go into crowds that they will be pushed or fall.”
Ursula Andress, 73, a former Bond girl who has osteoporosis, is supporting an international awareness campaign.