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Senior Health

Osteoporosis & Seniors: The Basics

Reviewed by: MySeniorCare Staff
Last Updated: 4/13/2010 5:13:02 PM

Osteoporosis is a disease that can affect people of any age. It strikes particularly hard at seniors, and especially at seniors living in the United States, who are at risk more than seniors in many other countries due to generally unhealthy eating habits.

The bones of seniors who are diagnosed with osteoporosis, literally "porous bone," have deteriorated significantly with regard to their basic structure. Their bones, including wrists, hips and the spine, are at an increased risk of breaking under even normal circumstances.

Osteoporosis Risk Factors

Everyone is at risk of osteoporosis but there are some risk factors that are set and some that can be changed. For example, a small-boned woman may have few options for changing her elevated risk, while another woman who smokes, drinks and watches television all day has a much better chance at preventing the disease.

Throughout our lives, bones are constantly being broken down at a mineral level and being built back up. If the elements that make up bone are not available in great enough supply, the bone will become weaker and more porous (hence the word osteoporosis). Osteoporosis also happens if there is an imbalance such that the breaking down process happens more quickly than the rebuilding process, regardless of the amount of material available. Such is the case when hormone levels change quickly around menopause for women.

Osteoporosis Prevention

Prevention is critical because there are no real symptoms of osteoporosis. Seniors generally don't know they have the disease until a fall creates the need for medical attention and the disease is diagnosed.

Bone is living tissue and therefore many of the preventive measures that should be taken to maintain healthy lives in general will aid with preventing this disease as well. These include exercising regularly, not smoking or drinking, being aware of the amount of calcium and vitamin D that are being consumed and having your pharmacist assess your medications for possible risk factors.

Living with Osteoporosis

Management of osteoporosis in seniors can occur if the disease is diagnosed. Detection of the disease occurs through a bone mineral density test that, much like an x-ray, detects the amount of bone present in your hips and spine. If detected early, many of these management practices will be incredibly helpful.

A management plan would be laid out by your doctor in consultation with other professionals. An osteoporosis management plan would include a proper diet (including calcium and vitamin D), appropriate regular exercise and a fall-prevention analysis.

Medication & Treatment Options

A number of medications are available that can help to reduce the severity and risk associated with osteoporosis, including hormone therapy for post-menopausal women.

Medicinal treatments include bisphosphonates, which decrease the activity of bone-dissolving cells, but they also come with a list of side effects that may impact the efficacy of the medication. Estrogen therapy can be used for women, but it is recommended only in the most severe cases as the therapy can increase a woman's risk for stroke, blood clots and breast cancer.

Make certain that you consider the risk factors, whether you are young or in your senior years, get tested regularly with a bone density scan, and, if diagnosed, create a management plan with your doctor and stick to it.

Osteoporosis is a disease but it is one that can be lived with quite successfully if you have the right knowledge.

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