Rib Fractures Serious for Elderly Adults

Recent reports of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fall that resulted in three broken ribs draws attention to the danger of complications that elderly adults often encounter after a fall leading to injury.

Ginsburg, 85, was admitted to hospital earlier this month following a fall in her office.  This is not the first time she has fractured ribs but at an older age, there is a greater risk for respiratory failure and pneumonia, especially if taking a deep breath causes pain. If the ribs are indeed fractured, rather than cracked, broken pieces of bone can cause internal injury of blood vessels and organs.

According to a recent Insider report, as many as a third of adults over the age of 65 who experience a rib fracture will develop pneumonia, which can be deadly for seniors.  And if patients also have other pre-existing chronic health conditions such as heart disease, COPD, diabetes or cirrhosis, the risk for complications rises.   

Research has shown that rib fractures among elderly patients should be taken seriously; pain should be well managed and breathing exercises prescribed to lower the rate of pneumonia.   Elderly patients should receive close and attentive care following a rib fracture; it’s not an injury to take lightly in older age.

Ginsburg returned to work this week after receiving treatment and being held for observation in hospital.  She hopes to remain in her position for another five years and after surviving two types of cancer and a procedure to place a stent in her right coronary artery, she certainly has the stamina and determination to work well into her 90s.  Learn more about how Ginsburg stays active and strong with twice-weekly workouts in her new book, the RGB Workout