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OSTEOPOROSIS: A Silent Destroyer

By Jane Noble
June 27, 2013

The word osteoporosis comes from the Greek osteo, meaning bone; and poros, meaning hole or passage. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes our bones to lose density and therefore become weak and fragile, and more susceptible to fractures. Bone is living tissue and as an ongoing process during our lives, old bone is broken down and replaced by new. Unfortunately, as we age, this replacement process slows down. Somewhere around the age of 30, bone mass stops increasing and we then have to look after the bones we have more carefully. In most women, the rate of bone loss increases for several years after menopause because of estrogen deficiency. In men the bone loss occurs more slowly, and by age 65 or 70, most men and women are losing bone at the same rate.

Bone is made up of a combination of collagen, water and minerals and is extremely strong and durable. It is smooth and compacted on the outside for strength and protection. On the inside it looks like a sponge or honeycomb.

As you can see in the picture above, once a person has osteoporosis, the spaces become larger and the connecting bone more brittle or broken. Eventually the outside of the bone also thins and weakens. The reason osteoporosis is a silent destroyer is that there are no symptoms until the disease is very advanced. Many people may not know they have osteoporosis until a sudden knock or fall causes a bone to break. The older we become, the longer our bones take to heal – so a fracture can put us out of action for a long time.  As the disease progresses, pain in the spine may occur and a stooped posture may develop.  There may also be a loss of height over time. At Amada we care for many clients who have osteoporosis. Our caregivers have to take extra care when assisting them because they are indeed very fragile. A minor bump, let alone a major fall can cause serious damage.

The only way to know the state of your bones and whether you are at risk is to have a bone density test. The test uses X-rays to measure how many grams of calcium and other bone minerals are packed in to a segment of bone. The bones that are most commonly tested are located in the spine, hip and forearm. The results provide a record for comparison as you age.

I am a healthy female in my fifties and I pride myself on being very fit. I run regularly, play sports and lift weights in the gym. I recently had my first ever bone density test. I was rather smug going in, convinced that I had the bones of a 20 year old. I was extremely surprised to find that I had lost a little density in my spine. Not a significant amount – but enough to reveal that my bones are not regenerating and bone is being absorbed into my body.

According to the Mayo Clinic, certain factors make some people more susceptible to osteoporosis than others. Some risk factors are beyond your control such as:

  • Your sex: Women are much more likely to develop osteoporosis than are men, particularly after menopause when estrogen levels decline.
  • Age: The older you get, the greater your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Race: You are at greater risk of osteoporosis if you are white or of Asian descent.
  • Family history: Having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis puts you at greater risk, especially if you also have a family history of fractures.
  • Frame size:  Men and women who have small body frames tend to have a higher risk because they may have less bone mass to draw from as they age.

Lifestyle and dietary choices can also have an impact. Following a healthy, well-balanced diet will make sure your body gets the important nutrients it needs. A lack of calcium can play a major role in the development of osteoporosis. People who are lactose intolerant need to make sure they get enough calcium from sources other than dairy.  Some medications can affect the bone rebuilding process. Excessive intake of alcohol can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.  If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you may have a higher risk of developing the disease. Weight bearing exercises are beneficial to your bones, including free weights, weight machines and stretch bands and also walking, jogging, yoga or dancing.

If you find you are at risk, your doctor can recommend various treatments, which may include changes in diet, increased exercise, calcium, vitamin D supplements and medicines to strengthen the bones. Unfortunately spine bones that have already collapsed cannot be reversed. Hip fractures are one of the main reasons people are admitted to nursing homes.

It is best to avoid falls of any kind as we age, so it is a good idea to make your own home as safe as possible.  An Amada advisor can help you assess your home for risks. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Remove household hazards, such as throw rugs, to reduce the risk of falls.
  • Leave lights on at night so you can see better when walking around your house.
  • Install and use safety grab bars in the bathroom.
  • Make sure your vision is good. Have your eyes checked once or twice a year by an eye doctor.
  • Wear shoes that fit well.
  • Take extra care if you have taken sedating medicines, which can make you drowsy and unsteady. Hold on to countertops or sturdy furniture to avoid falling.

 

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