June 24, 2024

I’ve heard the term “osteoporosis” throughout my adult life. I knew that it was a weakening condition of the body’s skeletal structure and that it seemed to impact older women. I was aware that many of my older friends and family members were taking calcium supplements as a preventive measure against osteoporosis. Otherwise, I didn’t really understand much about the condition.

According to the National Institute of Health, osteoporosis is a bone disease that can lead to a decrease in bone strength that can increase the risk of broken bones.

It’s not uncommon that people do not know they have osteoporosis until they experience a bone fracture. Osteoporosis is often the cause of fractures in postmenopausal women and in older men, with breaks happening most often in the hip, spine, and wrists. Once a person’s bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, they might experience back pain, loss of height, stooped posture, or a bone that breaks much more easily than expected.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for women older than 65 and women of any age who have factors that increase the chance of developing osteoporosis. Men older than 70 should discuss screening with their doctor. Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA) scans are tests that use very small amounts of radiation to determine how solid the bones of the spine, hip or wrist are. However, age is not the only risk factor for osteoporosis. Lifestyle choices (cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse, insufficient calcium and vitamin D consumption, inactive lifestyle, eating disorders), certain diseases (hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, Cushing’s disease, inflammatory arthritis), and certain medications can lead to this condition. These examples are not a complete list. Speak with your medical advisor for more information.

Calcium and vitamin D both play a part in this. Our bodies do not produce calcium, so we need to make sure our diets include calcium-rich foods, such as:

Dairy products, such as cheese, milk and yogurt.

Dark green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and kale.

Fish with edible soft bones, such as sardines and canned salmon.

Calcium-fortified foods and beverages, such as soy products, cereal and fruit juices, and milk substitutes.

To absorb calcium, our bodies need vitamin D. A few foods naturally contain small amounts of vitamin D, such as canned salmon with bones and egg yolks. Vitamin D can also be obtained from fortified foods and sun exposure.

Nutritional supplements for both calcium and vitamin D are available. A doctor’s advice should be sought before adding either supplement to your daily regimen.

If a person has been diagnosed with osteoporosis, there are treatments to help slow the progress of the disease. In addition, there are proactive steps to help prevent falls at home:

Keep floors free of clutter, including throw rugs and loose wires and cords. Use only non-skid items if you have mats, carpets or area rugs.

Choose shoes with non-slip bottoms rather than slippers. Do not walk in socks or stockings.

Use a cane or walker for added stability.

Make sure lighting is bright enough so that you can see well.

Do not use cleaners that leave your floors slippery.

Clean up any spills that happen immediately.

Use grab bars in the bathroom and railings on stairways.

Watch out for low items that can trip a person — open dishwashers and ottomans are common culprits.

Be mindful of where pets are to avoid tripping over them.

Keep a cordless phone or cell phone with you so that you don’t have to rush to the phone when it rings.

To prevent falls away from home:

Use a cane or walker for added stability.

Use a backpack or other type of bag that leaves your hands free.

Wear sensible shoes with non-slip bottoms.

By working with a healthcare provider, a person diagnosed with osteoporosis can lead an active and fulfilling life.

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.