Seniors increasingly breaking bones while walking dogs

(Reuters Health) – Older adults who walk their dogs on a leash have been breaking bones at an increasing rate, with women and hip bones most at risk, researchers say.

The study, which used information from a U.S. database of emergency room patients, found that cases of fractures in dog walkers over age 65 more than doubled from 2004 to 2017.

“If you have a dog companion, that’s great,” said senior author Dr. Jaimo Ahn, co-director of orthopedic trauma and fracture reconstruction at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“But as you walk your dog, be mindful and careful. Beyond that, use the walking as an opportunity to ask how fit and strong you feel. And then make a plan – with your doctor, family or friends – to become more fit, strong and healthy.”

After caring for a number of patients after accidents while walking their dogs, Ahn decided to look into how common these injuries were. He and his colleagues analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, maintained by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to track a nationally-representative sample of 100 U.S. hospital emergency departments.

In total, they found cases representing 32,624 fall-related fractures involving older people walking leashed dogs between 2004 and 2017, according to the report in JAMA Surgery.

The numbers of these incidents had been rising for more than a decade, from 1,671 in 2004 to 4,396 in 2017.

Most fractures, 79 percent, were in women. The bone most often broken was the hip, with over 17 percent of patients experiencing a hip fracture. However, more than half of patients broke a bone in the upper extremity region that includes shoulders, arms, hands, wrists and fingers.

In 29 percent of cases, the injuries were so severe that patients were admitted to the hospital.

Ahn and colleagues suggest that one way to prevent these kinds of fractures is for dog owners to seek out obedience training for their pets. Another possibility would be working on strength training for the owners.

“There is more and more research coming out that resistance training – not just cardiovascular exercise – is good for your body and mind as you age,” Ahn said in an email. “Accidents will happen in life but if you’re stronger and quicker, you’re better prepared and less likely to be injured.”

The authors also suggest that smaller dogs might be safer for older people. Their data, however, didn’t include information on the size of the dogs involved in the accidents.

The new findings didn’t surprise Dr. Jeffrey Geller, chief of orthopedic surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital and chief of the division of hip and knee reconstruction at the NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. “It certainly happens,” Geller said.

Geller believes the best professionals to intervene with older patients with big rambunctious dogs are veterinarians. “I can’t say that I screen everyone who comes into my office for pets and the size dog they own,” he said. “But a veterinarian who perhaps sees a 70 lb. German Shepard with a little old lady might be the one to intervene.”

One thing primary care doctors could do for senior patients is screen more often for bone density, Geller noted. “Everyone is screening for high blood pressure and heart disease,” he said. “But screening rates for osteoporosis are not great.”

SOURCE: JAMA Surgery, online March 6, 2019.


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