In partnership with UVM Medical Center
May is Osteoperosis Awareness and Prevention Month, but it’s always a good time to think about strengthening our bones.
Build healthy bones now, stay strong in the future
It’s easy to assume that weakening bones are a natural part of aging. However, people of all ages can take steps to maintain and even build their bone health. Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones.” It’s a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. Osteoporotic bones have lost density or mass. As bones become less dense, they weaken and are more likely to break.
Unfortunately, osteoporosis is quite common. About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for fracture. Studies suggest that 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men age 50 or older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Aside from being very painful, bone fractures can be quite serious, particularly in older people. Osteoporotic bone fractures are most likely to occur in the hip, spine or wrist, but other bones can break too.
Bone fractures of the spine can lead to height loss and a stooped or hunched posture. Also, fractures may limit mobility and independence, which often leads to feelings of isolation or depression. Up to 20 percent of seniors who break a hip die within one year. Many patients require long-term nursing care.
Osteoporosis risk and screening
It’s important to identify who is at risk long before a fracture happens. Osteoporosis does not have any symptoms until someone has a fracture, which makes it very important to discover it early.
The older we get, the more our chances for having osteoporosis increase. Screening is recommended for all women over 60 and all men over 70, using a bone-density test. A DXA test measures bone density at different parts of the body, usually the spine and hips. This test is safe and painless and provides important information about bone health.
People over age 50 who have other risk factors for bone loss should also be screened. These risk factors could include certain medical conditions or medication use that can cause bone loss.
Post-menopausal women are most at risk, but they are not the only group who suffers from bone disease. While symptoms are difficult to pinpoint, if you or someone you know have lost more than 2 inches in height since you were younger, that could suggest small fractures in the spine, which could be due to osteoporosis.
While older people are most at risk, people of all ages can help prevent osteoporosis by building and maintaining their bone health. One way to do this is by taking in adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D daily. The recommended amount is 1,200 mg of calcium, and 1,200 units of vitamin D. Calcium is slightly easier to take in from diet. Dairy products such as milk and cheese are good sources, as are many green vegetables and fortified foods such as orange juice. Vitamin D can be difficult to take in adequately through diet, so many clinicians recommend a supplement.
Regular weight-bearing activity is also helpful. Yoga, pilates, Tai Chi and simply walking can all improve core posture and balance. Fall prevention is paramount – look around your home for unsecured throw rugs, cords running across rooms, slippery outdoor areas, and proper railings on stairs. People of all ages are also encouraged to avoid smoking, as well as excessive caffeine and alcohol use.
For people who have osteoporosis or are at high risk, there are medications that can help to decrease fracture risk and increase bone density. Talk to your doctor about medication to help prevent a potentially serious fracture, and take small steps to improve your bone health.