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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Hip Fractures: Hip Protectors No Help?

Study: Hip Protectors May Not Prevent Hip Fractures in Elders
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 24, 2007 -- When elders fall, they may not be less likely to sustain a hip fracture if they're wearing a hip protector, a new study shows.

"We were unable to detect a protective effect" against hip fractures in nursing home residents aged 65 and older who wore hip protectors, the researchers note.

However, a journal editorial notes that there are several different types of hip protectors and that more studies are needed to see whether hip protectors do -- or don't -- prevent hip fractures in older adults.

The study and editorial appear in the July 25 edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Hip Protector Study

The new study on hip protectors comes from researchers including Douglas Kiel, MD, MPH.

Kiel is the director of medical research for the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Kiel and colleagues studied 1,042 people aged 65 and older at 37 U.S. nursing homes. Participants were 85 years old, on average. Most were white women; few were taking osteoporosis drugs. None were on bed rest when the study started.

Participants wore special undergarments with a built-in hip protector on their right or left hip. The hip protector included padding and a hard polyethylene shield.

The researchers visited the nursing homes to make sure the residents were wearing their hip protectors and to track participants' hip fractures.

Participants were followed for nearly eight months, on average. During that time, hip fractures affected roughly 3% of the protected and unprotected hips, according to the study.

Hip Protectors: Second Opinion

The hip protector used in Kiel's study isn't currently on the market. Since the study started, other hip protectors have become available and are being tested, Kiel's team notes.

Kiel and colleagues note several possibilities that might have affected the study's results.

Participants may have been more careful to avoid falling during the study. They may also have tried to land on their protected hip if they started to fall, the researchers point out.

In addition, wearing a hip protector only on one hip may have affected participants' gait and risk of falling, according to the study.

The data are "useful" but "not sufficient" for evaluating all hip protectors, note editorialist Pekka Kannus, MD, PhD, and colleagues.

In the journal, the editorialists note financial ties to various health care companies. The researchers who worked on the study report no financial conflicts of interest.

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