Rbg’s Broken Ribs Why Is Breaking Bones Dangerous For Older Adults

November 11, 2019

According to news reports, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being treated in the hospital after falling and breaking three ribs. But why are broken bones and other fall injuries so worrisome for seniors?

Ginsburg, 85, fell in her office Wednesday night (Nov. 7), according to the New York Times. She went home afterward but felt sick and was hospitalized Thursday morning, according to the Times. Doctors found that she had fractured three ribs on her left side.

Falls are more common in people 65 and older, but they can be serious and even fatal in this population.

Experts say fractures in particular can have a serious impact on the health of the elderly. A Danish study published earlier this year found that over the course of a year, a fracture increases the risk of death in older adults by up to 25 percent, and that this risk remains high up to 10 years after the injury.

Broken bones are “more dangerous [for older adults] because of the impact of the fracture itself on the overall condition of the patient,” said Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education at Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York, who was not involved in Ginsburg’s care.

For example, it’s not uncommon for older adults to have fractures that require surgery to treat the fracture. And “any surgery with anesthesia presents new challenges for older patients,” Wolf-Klein told Live Science.Surgery can put pressure on the heart, which can be a problem for older adults with heart disease.

In addition, the surgery and the fracture itself can cause seniors to be immobile or bedridden, which can lead to complications, Wolf-Klein said. Such complications include pressure sores from staying in bed, or disorders that may make a person more weak and vulnerable to injury.

Staying in bed can also increase the risk of pneumonia in older adults, especially those with lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). That’s because, when immobilized, these patients are more likely to develop secretions that remain in their lungs, thereby increasing the risk of pneumonia, Wolf-Klein said.

Aging itself also slows the body’s recovery period, which means older adults may spend weeks in the hospital recovering from a fall.

Given the serious consequences of falls in older adults, it’s important to prevent falls in this population.

Ginsberg has faced health challenges before, but she has proven to be particularly resilient. According to the New York Times, she broke two ribs in 2012 without missing work, and made a quick recovery after a heart surgery in 2014. She also beat two cancer diagnoses – colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009.She returned to work less than three weeks after her second cancer surgery in 2009.