More seniors are sustaining fractures while walking their dog. According to a new study published by the University of Pennsylvania, fractures among older adults have more than doubled from 2004 to 2017. Over this 13 year period, US residents 65 years and older experienced a higher number of bone fractures while walking a leashed dog. The number of fractures increased from 1671 to 4396 representing a 150% increase. The study found walking a leashed dog “imparts a significant and rising injury risk in older adults.”
Jaimo Ahn, co-author of the study and an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Penn Medicine, does not want to discourage older adults from walking their dogs. His hope is that the study will encourage conversations between seniors and their doctors to discuss the risks associated with walking a leashed dog. Education of these risks could help prevent injury by increasing awareness.
The study does not address the reasons for the increase. While the senior population has grown as a percentage of the population as a whole, Dr. Ahn thinks other factors may be causing the increase. These include a higher activity level among baby boomers as well as a higher likelihood for physicians to recommend dog ownership as a way to improve overall health.
Details surrounding the injuries, such as size or breed of dog and other factors, were not part of the study. Its focus was on older adults and did not address whether injuries from dog walking are increasing in the general population or solely among seniors. It also did not address the overall health of the senior population or economic factors. The study did not consider factors such as terrain or whether the location of the injury was less favorable for dog walking. It did not address other possible causes including whether the individual was distracted. Could the fact more people are looking at their cell phone instead of paying attention to where they are going play a role?
Reduced bone mass and a higher frequency of falls among the older population make them more susceptible to bone fractures. Older women have a higher incidence of osteoporosis placing them at a higher risk of sustaining a fracture when falling. Not surprisingly, almost 80% of the fractures, included in the study, occurred in women. Fractures to the hips, wrists and upper arms were the most common.
Research indicates seniors who walk their dogs are healthier than those who don’t. Benefits of pet ownership include reduced stress, lower blood pressure, increased social interaction, and higher levels of physical activity for pet owners. Pets positively impact mental health by reducing symptoms of depression while helping people feel less lonely.
In order to prevent injury while walking a leashed dog, consider enrolling your pet in obedience classes to teach her the proper way to walk on a lead. Education and awareness of the potential risks associated with walking a leashed dog will lessen the likelihood of sustaining an injury. Wear appropriate footwear for the terrain. Purchase a lead that is both comfortable for your pet and supportive for both of you. Choose the safest route based on the weather conditions and avoid those areas which might be icy, muddy, or flooding. Always carry your mobile phone in case of emergency. Consider enrolling in a strength training class to increase muscle strength. Talk to your doctor if you experience pain or discomfort while walking your dog. If you need help finding a safe, comfortable lead for your dog, ask your veterinarian for recommendations.