Osteoporosis in Seniors
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that happens when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. Throughout our lives, the body breaks down old bone and replaces it with new bone. But as people age, more bone is broken down than is replaced.
The inside of a bone normally looks like a honeycomb. However when a person has osteoporosis, the holes inside this honeycomb become larger. The word "osteoporosis" means "porous bone," or bones with holes. The outside of long bones also gets thin, which make the bone weaker.
Osteoporosis thins and weakens the bones and as a result, bones may break from a fall or, in serious cases, from sneezing or minor bumps. Women and men with osteoporosis most often break bones in the hip, spine, and wrist, but any bone can be affected.
How Does Bone Loss Happen?
Bone mass stops increasing around age 30 and the goal for bone health is to keep as much bone as possible for as long as you can. For most women bone loss happens faster after menopause and then slows down again, though it continues to decline. Men lose bone more slowly than women. However by age 65 or 70, most men and women are losing bone at the same rate.
In the United States many people already have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to bone loss and do not know it. This places them at risk for more serious bone loss and broken bones. Although osteoporosis can happen at any age, it is most common among older people, especially older women.
Weak Bones Can Lead to Broken Bones
People may not know that they have osteoporosis until a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a bone to break. This can result in a trip to the hospital, surgery, and possibly a long-term disability.
Broken hips are a very serious problem for older adults. People who break a hip might not recover for months or even years.
Prevention and Treatment
The good news is that osteoporosis can often be prevented and treated. Healthy lifestyle choices such as proper diet, exercise, and treatment medications can help prevent further bone loss and reduce the risk of breaking bones.
A healthy diet with enough calcium and vitamin D helps make your bones strong. Many people get less than half the calcium they need. Good sources of calcium are:
• Low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese
• Foods with added calcium such as orange juice, cereals, and breads
Vitamin D is also needed for strong bones. Some people may need to take vitamin D supplements.
Exercise helps your bones grow stronger. To increase bone strength, you can:
• Climb stairs
• Lift weights
• Play tennis
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) created an educational, bilingual fotonovela as part of its efforts to provide communities with reliable health information on osteoporosis. The fotonovela talks about osteoporosis and bone health and uses the story of a woman named Isabel and her extended family on one busy night to present common warning signs and symptoms of osteoporosis. The fotonovela also talks about risk factors, ways to prevent falls, tips for getting enough calcium, and steps to better bone health.
To read NIAMS osteoporosis fotonovela click here.