elderly man with walker

Falls among the elderly are reaching epidemic proportions.

What does geriatric medicine have to do with orthopedic trauma? A lot, actually.

Falls among the elderly are reaching epidemic proportions. And, as baby boomers age, the incidence is going to continue to rise. But, what’s most troubling is that one out of four elderly patients dies within 12 months following a serious fall.

“Falls are frequently symptomatic of cognitive or medical decline,” says Dr. Michael Weaver, an orthopedic surgeon in the Orthopedic Trauma Service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). “When an elderly patient with a multitude of medical issues suffers a hip fracture, there’s a lot to consider at one time.”

The BWH Orthopedic Trauma Service has taken the unusual step of incorporating a geriatrician as an integral part of its team. Geriatricians specialize in the care of older adults and coordinate with other specialists to provide optimal treatment.

“Older people often have multiple complex medical conditions and have fewer reserves for handling trauma and illness compared with young people,” says Dr. Houman Javedan, a geriatrician who sees every patient over the age of 70 in the BWH Orthopedic Trauma Service and also is a member of the BWH Center for Older Adult Health. “I provide simultaneous evaluation and recommendations for treatment in order to improve recovery and longer-term health among elderly patients after a fall.”

Indeed, the team has already seen major benefits of its collaborative approach to evaluation and treatment. Patients and their families often report a smoother recovery.  For patients who arrive with a fracture but are not able to withstand surgery right away, techniques are often used to address underlying conditions and strengthen the patient’s overall condition.

“It’s critical to look at the big picture and understand what is really happening with an elderly person after a fall,” says Dr. Javedan. “For many, a fall isn’t just a fall.”

– Jessica F

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