According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis and low bone mass (osteopenia) currently affect 54 million Americans over the age of 50, and this number is expected to grow significantly with the aging of the Baby Boomers (NOF, 2014). More than 10 million Americans currently have osteoporosis (Becker, Kilgore, & Morrisey, 2010). Osteoporosis in the most common bone disorder and is caused by several changes in the bone, particularly the loss of bone mineral density. The weakening of the bone that occurs with this condition increases the risk of fractures of the hip and back, but can also result in fractures of the arm (Bonnick et al., 2010); there are an estimated 1.5 million fractures per year in the United States that are attributed to osteoporosis (Becker, Kilgore, & Morrisey, 2010). Fracturing the hip has serious consequences including increased risk for requiring nursing home care, a decrease in financial security, and an increased risk of death in the year following the fracture (Leslie & Morin, 2014).
Although osteoporosis is often thought of as a condition affecting older women, osteoporosis is also a serious problem among older men. Each year, 80,000 men break a hip and one and four men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis (NOF, n.d.).
What can older adults do to reduce their risk of developing osteoporosis or reduce risk of fracture if they already have low bone mineral density? The risks for osteoporosis include factors that cannot be controlled and those that can. For example, older adults cannot change their gender, age, family history, or conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. But many factors can be controlled such as engaging in weight bearing exercise, eating a sound diet that includes adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, not smoking, and keeping alcohol intake at a minimum (Bonnick et al., 2010). For those with osteoporosis, in addition to exercise, nutrition, and medical management, fall prevention becomes vitally important. Ninety percent of fractures of the hip result from falls, so including exercises that improve balance and muscle strength, reducing fall hazards in the home, and talking with your primary care provider about adjusting medications that cause dizziness are all important steps to take (Bonnick et al., 2010). Also, get informed about this important health condition; the National Osteoporosis Foundation provides a wealth of information about causes, prevention, and treatment of this condition (http://nof.org/).
One final thought: When thinking about how to prevent osteoporosis, one recommendation would be to build as much bone as you can when you are young. Bone density peaks at age 30 and loss of bone density begins during the 30’s. For women, the process accelerates after menopause (Bonnick et al., 2010). So, for all parents and grandparents concerned about osteoporosis, have your daughters, granddaughters, sons, and grandsons engage in frequent weight bearing exercise and follow a nutritional program that includes appropriate amounts of calcium and vitamin D. This will help them to reach the beginning of middle age with the strongest possible bones and allow them to forestall the development of osteoporosis, perhaps permanently.
Becker, D. J., Kilgore, M. L., & Morrisey, M. A. (2010). The societal burden of osteoporosis. Current Rheumatology Reports, 12(3), 186-191.
Bonnick, S. L., Harris, S. T., Kendler, D. L., McClung, M. R., & Silverman, S. L. (2010). Management of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women: 2010 position statement of The North American Menopause Society. Menopause – The Journal of the North American Menopause Society, 17(1), 25-54.
Leslie, W. D., & Morin, S. N. (2014). Osteoporosis epidemiology 2013: implications for diagnosis, risk assessment, and treatment. Current Opinion in Rheumatology, 26(4), 440-446.
NOF. (2014, June 2). 54 million American affected by osteoporosis and low bone mass. Retrieved from http://nof.org/news/2948
NOF. (n.d.). Just for men. Retrieved from http://nof.org/articles/236