What Seniors Need to Know About Osteoporosis

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Osteoporosis is a serious concern for older individuals. It increases the risk of bone fractures, and broken bones are slower to heal. While it is more common in women, men can also develop it. Aging is the main risk factor.

What Is Osteoporosis?

This condition is characterized by weakened bones. Bone loss is a natural part of aging. Your bones are not as strong and dense as when you were younger.

Causes Of Osteoporosis

In addition to aging, there are other risk factors that cannot be changed or corrected. One example is the hormonal deficiencies that occur as you grow older. In men, lower testosterone levels can contribute to osteoporosis. In women, lower estrogen levels can cause loss of bone density. Women’s estrogen levels decrease after menopause, but it can occur sooner if the ovaries have been surgically removed.

Osteoporosis can have genetic causes. If you have a family history of this condition, your risk is between 25% and 80% higher than a person who did not have direct blood relatives with the condition.

Some medications can increase the risk of low bone density. Anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, barbiturates, glucocorticosteroids and proton pump inhibitors are a few examples.

Elderly man with Osteoporosis

There are other risk factors that are easier to control. Excessive drinking increases the risk of both low bone density and fractures. Individuals who drink more than two alcoholic beverages per day have a greater risk of bone issues.

The groups of cells responsible for bone remodeling are affected by smoking. Smoking can also result in earlier menopause and a lower body weight, both of which increase the risk of osteoporosis.

Exposure to heavy metals can cause bone density loss. Lead is only one example. Cadmium can also cause bones to soften.

Too much animal-based protein in the diet, a sedentary lifestyle, being underweight, and lack of adequate nutrition can all increase your risk of poor bone health.

In the past, bone issues were accepted as a natural part of aging. With many medical advancements, seniors today can look forward to healthier lives. Physicians can diagnose osteoporosis, and recommend appropriate treatment. Seniors can take steps to prevent osteoporosis, and reduce the risks that accompany weakened bones and loss of bone mineral density.

How Osteoporosis Is Diagnosed

Seniors should never wait until they are elderly, or have experienced broken bones. While you may show noticeable signs such as changes in your posture, loss of height, a curved back, sloped shoulders, or back pain, the early stages of osteoporosis do not always produce symptoms. You should ask your doctor to evaluate you for loss of bone density. The test is simple and painless.

Although women who have reached age 65 and men who have reached age 70 should be tested, all seniors who have special risk factors should have the test at age 50.

Osteoporosis is diagnosed by x-rays. As standard radiography is not as effective at diagnosing the condition in its earliest stages, the preferred method is Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DXA.

There are other diagnostic methods that can detect osteoporosis. Your doctor may choose to perform quantitative computed tomography, or QCT.

Blood tests may also be performed to determine whether there are any underlying problems that need to be corrected or treated.

All of these diagnostic tests are completely safe. If you have not been tested for osteoporosis, make an appointment to discuss it with your personal physician. He will choose the test that is appropriate for your particular situation.

How Osteoporosis Can Be Prevented

A healthy lifestyle throughout childhood and the young adult years is the best way to prevent bone issues in later life. This does not mean there is nothing seniors can do to keep their bones healthy. Regardless of your age, you can strengthen your bones.

A nutritious diet is one of the easiest ways to avoid bone issues. Replace the animal-based proteins with plant-based proteins. Legumes, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds, spinach, soy products, peas, beans, and lentils are all rich in dietary protein.

You need a wide range of vitamins and minerals in your diet. Calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin K are especially important. Do not consume soft drinks, and reduce the sodium in your diet.

Although obesity is unhealthy for many reasons, avoid becoming underweight. If you need to lose weight, avoid restrictive weight loss diets that do not provide adequate nutrition.

Exercise is beneficial for bone strength and bone density. You can lose less bone in your hip and spine, and also reduce your risk of fractures. Weight-bearing exercise is especially useful. Depending on your current health and preferences, you can try jogging, walking, hiking, and climbing stairs. You can dance or play tennis. When you participate in these activities, your body is working against gravity.

Sleep can improve bone health. When you do not have adequate sleep, the cortisol levels in your body increase. If your cortisol levels are too high, calcium is leached from your bones. It is only a myth that seniors do not need as much sleep as younger people. Eight hours of restful sleep each night can keep your bones strong and healthy.

Stress also causes cortisol levels to increase. As much as possible, reduce the amount of stress in your life. As you cannot eliminate all stress, learn some stress-reduction techniques to help you relax. Devote some time each day to reading, meditating, practicing yoga, or relaxing in a warm bath.

Increase the Vitamin D in your body with natural sunshine. You can have multiple benefits if you exercise outdoors. When your body absorbs this vitamin from sunlight, it helps your body absorb calcium.

Common lifestyle habits can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. One example is the amount of caffeine you may be consuming every day. When caffeine increases your output of urine, your body is losing calcium. Switch to naturally decaffeinated beverages, or switch to calcium-rich dairy drinks. Milk enriched with Vitamin D is the ideal beverage for bone health. If you do not like dairy products, you can find Vitamin D enriched soy milk.

Whether you want to prevent osteoporosis or reduce its effects and risks, avoid tobacco smoke. Do not smoke, and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke. Whether you are actively smoking or passively smoking, it increases bone loss.

Limit your alcohol consumption. New bone formation can be decreased if you drink more than two beverages per day. Have only one drink, or none at all. Your risk of breaking bones in a fall also increase when you have been drinking.

It is not difficult to incorporate these prevention tips into your daily life. It is much easier to avoid osteoporosis than to deal with it after it has developed. This does not mean you must live with the potential complications and risks if you have already been diagnosed with this condition.

Treatment For Osteoporosis

There are numerous options for treating and managing osteoporosis. In some cases, it can even be reversed. If you have been diagnosed by your personal physician, he will recommend the approach that is right for you.

For some seniors, a nutritious diet can be helpful. Place special emphasis on calcium. Include other bone-building nutrients in your diet. You need Vitamin K, Vitamin D, trace minerals, and magnesium.

Exercise can increase your bone mineral density and strengthen your bones. Resistance exercises, weight-bearing exercise, and aerobics are the best options.

You may have heard of natural or alternative treatments for osteoporosis. However, you should not consider herbs and supplements appropriate treatments without your doctor’s approval. You do not want to waste money, and have your condition worsen, by purchasing useless products. Some natural products may help but talk to your doctor first.

Elderly man with osteoporosis exercising

Hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, is a controversial treatment for osteoporosis. As seniors lose bone density after the normal hormone levels start to decline, some doctors prefer hormone replacement therapy. Estrogen can be replaced in women, and testosterone can be replaced in men.

 

While bone density can be maintained with HRT, this method has disadvantages. Women who use estrogen therapy have a higher risk of breast cancer and endometrial cancer. The risk of heart disease and blood clots may also increase. Discuss these issues with your doctor if he has recommended hormone replacement therapy for your osteoporosis.

Seniors with a high risk of bone fractures may be prescribed medication. Bisphosphonates are the most common type of medication. They can be especially useful for individuals whose osteoporosis has already contributed to broken bones.

 

The medications are available in both oral and intravenous forms. Both options can cause side effects. Oral medication can produce heartburn, abdominal pain, and nausea. The intravenous medications may produce lingering muscle aches, headaches, and fever.

In most instances, bisphosphonates should be limited to five years or less. When they are used on a long-term basis, serious complications may occur. While some of these risks are rare, they can be avoided altogether. An additional reason to limit the use of medications is the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research has stated low-risk seniors do not need long-term medications.

This organization recommends oral medications be stopped after five years, and intravenous medications be stopped after three years. Men and women in higher risk categories can use oral medication for ten years, or intravenous medication for six years.

As some seniors cannot tolerate the side effects of bisphosphonates, and may want to avoid the health risks associated with hormone replacement therapy, there are additional options for treating osteoporosis. You may wish to consider one of these other options, and discuss it with your doctor.

Denosumab can improve bone density. It provides the most benefits to postmenopausal women. This drug is administered twice annually by injection.

Teriparatide is also beneficial for aging women. It stimulates bone growth while reducing the risk of fractures. The daily injections are generally given for two years. After treatment, the bone growth is preserved with another medication.

Similar to other medical conditions, there is no one treatment that is equally appropriate for everyone. Every senior should discuss options with their doctors, and make an informed decision. If you disagree with your doctor’s recommendation, you can request a second opinion. Treatment should be effective, yet not cause unnecessary side effects.

Osteoporosis Research

There has been much progress due to research. One example is the Osteoporosis Research Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Some of their conclusions include Vitamin D and calcium supplements to prevent fractures, five different medications for treating osteoporosis, the relationship between osteoporosis and gene mutations, and investigations into bone biology.

During recent years, other research has been conducted. They include new methods of treatment, assessing causes and risk factors. Strategies have been developed to promote healthy bone density during childhood.

Osteoporosis research in recent decades has resulted in hope and help for today’s aging seniors. Osteoporosis can be prevented, but it can be effectively treated if it has already developed. Better health and better lives are possible for this generation’s aging population.

In the past, elderly persons risked serious complications from osteoporosis. Hip fractures, especially, could result in life-threatening complications. Limited mobility after a hip fracture could lead to pneumonia. Pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis were additional risks. Even a vertebral fracture could result in chronic pain. An elderly person’s overall quality of life was reduced.Aide helping senior into bed

Today’s seniors do not need to experience these complications. Whether you are male or female, visit your doctor and ask to be tested for osteoporosis. Make changes in your lifestyle so your bones stay strong and healthy.

You can also make changes in your home to reduce your risk of falls. Install railings in your bathtub or shower. Replace rugs with carpeting in the rooms and stairways. Stairways and walkways should be well-lit. Consider LED lighting strips so you do not have to reach for light cords.

Osteoporosis does not need to be a fact of life, but you can live with it if you take proper precautions and cooperate with treatment. You never need to cope with broken bones during your elderly years. Seniors today can enjoy healthier lives.