More than 40 million people in the United States either have osteoporosis or are at risk for the disease because of low bone mass, according to the National Institutes of Health. Just how critical is this issue? Bone health has been declared to be a "national public health priority," by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Seniors are particularly susceptible to this widespread disease, which can lead to fractures and a number of other health complications. Let's take a closer look at what caregivers need to know about this significant threat to senior health.
What is Osteoporosis
The NIH defines osteoporosis as "a disease that thins and weakens the bones to the point that they become fragile and break easily."
Because bone is living tissue, it breaks down throughout our lives. When broken down bones is not adequately regenerated and replaced, this can lead to weak bones and bone loss. Just how early does bone mass stop increasing? Around the age of 30.
Osteoporosis is often referred to as a "silent" disease because there are no symptoms. In fact, most people are unaware that they have osteoporosis until they break a bone. Osteoporosis is particularly common in women: they account for a full 80 percent of osteoporosis cases.
Unfortunately, the consequences can be dire for seniors suffering from osteoporosis: more than 1.5 million fractures happen annually due to this condition, and a full 70 percent of patients treated for osteoporosis-related fractures do not regain their pre-injury status. This can result in a vicious cycle of pain, disability, and loss of independence.
While bone loss is a natural part of the aging process, osteoporosis doesn't have to be. Diet, exercise and medication are all valuable management tools for reducing bone loss and preventing fractures.
Adequate calcium intake is a critical part of bone health. According to NIH recommendations, women over the age of 50 should take in 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily while men in the 51-70 age groups should consume 1,000 daily milligrams of calcium. (After the age of 70, bone loss evens out for men and women so both should consume 1,200 milligrams a day.) Foods with concentrated sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, leafy green vegetables, almonds, and calcium-fortified foods, such as orange juice, cereals and tofu.
Vitamin D is also essential to ongoing bone health because it helps your body absorb calcium. While sunlight is the best natural source of vitamin D, many seniors simply do not get enough -- particularly during the winter months. Talk to your aging loved one's doctor about whether a vitamin D supplement would be helpful.
Weight-bearing exercises are also an important part of strengthening senior muscles and bones. Whether you encourage your aging loved one to take daily walks or look into group fitness programs for seniors, the combination of weight-bearing exercise and strengthening and balance work adds up to stronger, more agile bodies.
Weight-bearing exercises strengthen muscle and bone.
While there is no cure for osteoporosis, these lifestyle changes -- including a balanced diet, sufficient vitamin D, and exercise -- are effective management and treatment measures. To make a difference in the lives of seniors at risk for osteoporosis, share this message with your friends, family members, and fellow caregivers. For more information on osteoporosis watch Osteoporosis - A Guide to Help Prevent and Treat Bone Loss.
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