Osteoporosis is a medical condition wherein the bones become very fragile and brittle making them prone to injuries and fractures. That is because there is a decline in bone density largely due to aging. There is also a substantial decline in the mineral levels of calcium at a rate that is higher than that at which it may be replaced in the body.
Commonly referred to as a silent disease, osteoporosis displays no evident symptoms until the first fracture occurs or the bones break completely. Hence, elders must be particularly careful and take sufficient precautions to prevent and control this dangerous disease.
Recent studies predict that elders over fifty years of age are at greater risk of getting osteoporosis and women are more susceptible to it than their male counterparts.
Relationship between Aging and Osteoporosis
The bones in our body are, infact, living tissues that undergo a process of continuous renewal. Due to aging, the pace at which the bones are broken down and resorbed is far greater than the process at which it is replaced. This makes the bones thinner and weaker. The main cause of this phenomenon may be attributed to hormonal changes in old age wherein there is reduction in the levels of oestrogen for women (especially during menopause) and testosterone in men. This is called ‘primary osteoporosis’. For ladies, the risk of this disease increases noticeably after menopause due to a drastic drop in oestrogen levels. Osteoporosis can also occur as a result of another disease like coeliac disease or medication due to malabsorption of calcium. This is termed as ‘secondary osteoporosis’.
In either case, the fragile bones are prone to breakage easily and can result in fractures when there are falls. But spinal fractures may occur without the incidence of falls! Elders may also fall due to side-effects of medications, visual impairments, diminishing of bone strength, muscle mass and balancing capabilities. This can cause fractures easily. Most fractures occur in the hip, spine, wrist and shoulder for the older adults. Of these, hip fractures impact the lives of elders the most both in terms of cost and deterioration of health. Additionally, these fractures are likely to cause permanent disability and also increase the mortality rates!
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Some visible symptoms of osteoporosis are:
- Acute back pain that is caused by weak, collapsed or injured spine
- Decrease in height as the age progresses
- Changes in posture particularly stooping
- Bones are more susceptible to breakage than expected
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Apart from aging, other risk factors include –
- Family history
- Low body weight
- Reduced levels of physical activity
- Deficiency in Vitamin D
- Imbalanced diet that has a poor calcium content
- Removal of ovaries in women and the absence of hormone replacement therapy.
- Post-menopausal period(for women)
- Excessive consumption of caffeine products and alcohol.
- Certain medications like cortisone and anticonvulsants taken for long durations.
Treatment for Osteoporosis
The treatment route for osteoporosis is based on the bone density test which is done to estimate the risk of bone breakage.
- Medication – For patients with high risk, medications may be recommended. Bisphosphonates, monoclonal antibody medicines, hormone-related therapy (for women) and drugs for bone-building are prescribed.
- Therapy – For elders who suffer from chronic pain due to fractures or severe muscle spasms and compression, alternative therapies like heat and cold treatment, yoga, acupuncture and relaxation therapy may be deployed for pain relief with occasional home doctor visits.
- Lifestyle Changes – Lifestyle modifications are more beneficial for patients who face lower risk. The following steps may be taken to manage symptoms and also prevent the disease:
- Following a nutritious and healthy meal plan regularly.
- Taking sufficient calcium daily-adults above fifty years of age need about 1200 milligrams per day.
- Ensuring proper absorption of calcium by taking Vitamin D. Elders can drink milk or soy beverages and take supplements if needed. They must also get natural exposure to sunlight for a short while every day for the natural synthesis of Vitamin D. Doing this is important because the inherent capacity of the skin to produce this vitamin reduces due to aging.
- Maintaining bone health by remaining physically active and strengthening the body. For this, weight-bearing exercises like walking, dancing, playing tennis, swimming or hiking may be done by seniors. Such exercises improve both the balancing and co-ordination capabilities thereby reducing the probability of fractures from trips and falls.
- Avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking which causes severe loss of bone mass and density.
- Taking fall prevention measures by doing relevant exercises, wearing comfortable shoes and looking cautiously for uneven grounds, slippery floors, obstacles, area rugs and elevated pathways while moving. Keeping the living spaces well-lit and installing grab bars for better support is also beneficial.
- Limiting alcohol consumption as it slows down the process of bone formation. Besides, people are more prone to trips and falls when they are under the influence of alcohol.
Thus proper nutrition, regular exercise and healthy habits can go a long way in dealing with osteoporosis, especially for the aged population!