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March 06, 2019

Broken bones linked to dog walks are on the rise among elderly adults

One injury could lead to a physical decline in older adults

Senior Health Injuries
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Sure, it sounds like a great idea to get grandma a dog to keep her company. But, unfortunately, walking a leashed dog can increase the risk of bone fractures and ER visits in older adults, new research finds.

To determine this, University of Pennsylvania researchers examined government data on emergency room visits for dog walking injuries in adults aged 65 and older. The numbers nationwide rose from almost 1,700 in 2004 to about 4,400 in 2017.

Almost 80 percent of the patients were women, who tend to have less dense bones than men, the research published Wednesday in the JAMA Surgery.

RELATED: Study: Fitness tracker data links activity in older adults to lower dementia risk

While dog-walking causes fewer than one percent of fractures among older adults, the numbers are unexpectedly high and the risk is often under-appreciated, said study co-author Dr. Jaimo Ahn, an orthopedic surgeon. Injuries typically happen when a dog pulls on a leash and walkers lose their balance, according to U.S. News and World Report

Breaking bones, especially hips, can cause a sharp decline in seniors' health, with at least one in four older adults dying within a year of breaking a hip. 

At the same time research shows that dogs can be good companions for older adults and can help them stay active. So seniors should consider strength training for themselves and obedience training for their dogs, Ahn said, ABC News reports.

"For older adults — especially those living alone and with decreased bone mineral density — the risks associated with walking leashed dogs merit consideration," the authors wrote. "Even one such injury could result in a potentially lethal hip fracture, lifelong complications, or loss of independence."

While the studies results were statistically significant, researchers only looked only at patients who went to an emergency department and excluded injuries that were less severe and not fractures, CNN adds. 

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