May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month
This month is the perfect time for older adults to learn about osteoporosis and how they can protect their bone health and promote their health and wellbeing.
Although many seniors develop osteoporosis, this disease is not a normal part of aging. It is a serious health concern for nearly 44 million — or 55% — of adults over 50.
Because it is such a common disease, older adults must learn what they can so they can lower their risk of injury and maintain their quality of life.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis means “porous bone.” Over time, people with this disease lose bone density and bone tissue as it deteriorates.
It is estimated that 10 million Americans have developed the disease, with an additional 34 million at risk because of low bone mass.
In 2005, osteoporotic fractures — which most often occur in the wrists, spine, and hips — incurred a staggeringly high cost of about $19 billion.
In addition to the financial burden, injury can cause mobility and independence loss, which takes a physical, emotional, and mental toll.
More concerningly, 24% of adults over 50 with an osteoporosis-related fracture die within a year of their injury.
Because they can’t feel their bones weakening, older adults may not realize they have it until it is too late — which why osteoporosis is often called “the silent disease.”
A diagnosis may only come after a small fall, or a sneeze causes a fracture.
A study conducted by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons found that despite the detrimental impact on seniors’ quality of life, many at-risk adults know very little about it — sometimes even mistaking osteoporosis-related injuries for something else.
Dr. Angela M. Cheung of the University Health Network/Mount Sinai Hospital Program in Toronto, Ontario, one of the study’s authors, said,
“Many people who sustain a fracture don’t connect it to osteoporosis. A person who has a heart attack knows that there’s a problem with his or her heart, but a person who fractures thinks, ‘The floor was slippery’ or ‘I’m clumsy’ and doesn’t look at it as a symptom of a more serious medical condition.”
Risk Factors For Osteoporosis
Some people are more predisposed to developing this disease than others.
Many factors ranging from genetic to lifestyle can increase somebody’s chances, so older adults should talk to their doctor and monitor their bone health closely.
Women have a significantly higher chance of developing osteoporosis than men. On average, one in two women and one in four men will break a bone because of this disease.
Additionally, certain ethnicities have a higher risk, including Caucasians, Asians, Hispanic/Latinos, and African-Americans.
Older adults with a family history of this disease, or who have a history of broken bones, also have a higher risk.
In addition, other risk factors of osteoporosis include:
- Inactive or sedentary lifestyle
- Older age
- Alcohol abuse or smoking
- Being small and thin
- Low sex hormones, such as low estrogen in women (including menopause or missing periods or amenorrhea) and low testosterone and estrogen in men
- Diet, including low calcium and vitamin D intake and high protein, sodium, and caffeine consumption
- Certain medications such as steroid medications and some anticonvulsants
- Certain diseases and conditions such as anorexia nervosa and asthma
- Loss of height (which may indicate a spinal fracture)
Ways Older Adults Can Prevent Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a severe health concern, and people should take steps to protect their bone health from an early age.
Teenagers should exercise and make sure they are getting enough vitamin D and calcium.
Women, in particular, should learn about preventative measures beginning in their twenties. Doing so will go a long way to keeping their bones healthy and strong later in life.
The best ways older adults can prevent osteoporosis include:
- Meeting the daily recommended intake for calcium (1,200 milligrams) and vitamin D (800 international units)
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
Additionally, those who smoke or frequently consume alcohol can lower their risk by changing their lifestyle.
Making an appointment to discuss the risk of developing this disease is the first step in prevention and treatment.
Adults with more advanced osteoporosis may have to see an endocrinologist or specialist.
Regular screening is also an effective measure to catch osteoporosis before it progresses.
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommends that at-risk adults talk to their doctor about osteoporosis screenings, including:
- All post-menopausal women, as well as those 65 and older
- Those with a history of bone breaks, even non-traumatic ones
- People with brittle bones
- Those taking steroid treatment
- Individuals with low body weight
- Those with a family history, especially women
What Do Screenings Look Like?
There are several screening tests that individuals can take.
A DXA test — or dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry — is the most accurate osteoporosis screening. It helps healthcare professionals assess bone mass.
A fracture risk assessment is another method doctors use. It includes a discussion of family history, a physical exam, and routine biochemical testing used in combination with the DXA results.
Of course, the goal of osteoporosis treatment is to prevent future injuries caused by broken bones by improving the balance between bone formation and resorption.
Ways To Support National Osteoporosis Awareness Month
There are many ways to participate in National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month.
On May 13 at 12 PM ET, the National Osteoporosis Foundation is hosting an online webinar on The Economic Impact of Osteoporotic Fractures.
The webinar will feature talks on the economic toll of this disease from the organization’s Interim CEO, Claire Gill, and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Angrea Singer, who will share highlights from NOF’s Fall 2019 report. Register for the NOF webinar.
The NOF is also encouraging Americans of every age to support bone health early on with their 10,000 Steps a Day in May Challenge.
Walking 10,000 steps every day during May — the equivalent of about five miles a day — counts toward the CDC’s recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise.
If you or a loved one need a little extra support during this time, MeetCaregivers can help. Our qualified caregivers can assist with daily needs, transportation, grocery shopping, meal preparation, and more.
Additionally, we believe that no senior should go hungry, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of current events, we created a free food delivery program for Boston’s elderly population.
Learn more about how you can receive this service or contribute:
Visit the blog for additional resources for caregivers, senior living, and lifestyle.
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- Kleifgen, Kevin. “National Osteoporosis Awareness & Prevention Month: Love Your Bones & Keep Them Healthy.” Loyola Medicine, 28 Sept. 2019, https://tinyurl.com/y72o5fpz.
- “A PDF File from CMS Discussing Osteoporosis.”
- “May Is National Osteoporosis Month.” National Osteoporosis Foundation, 24 Apr. 2020, https://tinyurl.com/y9r9nn5w.
- “May Is Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month.” Start Page, https://tinyurl.com/y7ux8sad.
- “National Osteoporosis Month.” National Osteoporosis Foundation, 30 Mar. 2020, https://tinyurl.com/ybmzs629.