March 27th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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A bad break: elders at risk from bone fractures

by Dorian Martin

Dad has had a couple of falls recently. Fortunately, he hasn’t broken anything.

Some of my acquaintances haven’t had this type of luck in regard to their elders. When I recounted Dad’s spills to our family veterinarian, he told me that his 98-year-old mother had fallen and broken a hip, and she was admitted to the hospital for surgery. Her fracture underscores the importance of bone health for seniors. The National Bone Health Alliance (NBHA), a private-public partnership of about 50 health care organizations, offers some alarming stats on this topic — for example, “breaking a hip more than doubles a woman’s risk of death.”

Loss of critical (bone) mass

Adults tend to lose bone mass as they age. Not surprisingly, falls — and bone fractures — are a real threat for seniors. And there are other ways that elders’ bones can break. Fractures can occur by just banging into objects and can even happen when the elder doesn’t sustain any injury.

Approximately half of women and a quarter of men above the age of 50 are expected to break a bone because of osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. The NOF explains that in midlife, bone loss typically accelerates for both sexes. Women may lose up to 20 percent or more of bone density just in the five to seven years after menopause. The NBHA reports that more than 2 million fractures that happen annually in the United States are linked to brittle bones caused by osteoporosis.

And the risks add up

The NBHA cautions that older Americans who suffer their first fracture due to osteoporosis are more than twice as likely to have another fracture in the future. And 50 percent of elders who suffer a hip fracture have already broken another bone prior to breaking their hip.

And yet, only 20 percent of individuals who break a bone get tested or treated for osteoporosis. The NBHA calls this the “80 percent care gap.”

To that effect, NBHA launched a 2Million2Many awareness campaign in 2012 that calls for health care professionals and patients alike to follow one simple rule: “If it’s 50+ fracture, request a test.” This test can detect normal bone density, low bone density or osteoporosis. The results can assist a health care provider in recommending some steps to take to help seniors avoid breaking a bone.

Protection is key

And what if an elder is like my father and has not broken anything (yet)? In a related blog post, I mention ideas about what caregivers can do to help prevent falls, for example, conducting home safety assessments.

The NBHA recommends the following five steps to help protect bone health:

  1. Get the recommended daily quantity of calcium and vitamin D, primarily from food.
  2. Do regular weight-bearing exercises as well as muscle-strengthening exercises.
  3. Don’t smoke and don’t consume too much alcohol.
  4. Discuss the chance of getting osteoporosis with a health care provider and determine whether a bone mineral density test is needed.
  5. Take an osteoporosis medication, if medical professionals consider it necessary.

“While osteoporosis is not curable, it is treatable,” the NBHA states. Working with seniors to take these steps could help promote bone health and give them a chance to continue to stand proud.

Posted in Caregiving, Health | 1 Comment »
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One Response to “A bad break: elders at risk from bone fractures”

  1. Sarah

    Thanks for the great tips!

    Since the “falling and breaking something” can lead to so many other health issues and possibly even be life-threatening for elder adults, getting on top of the potential issue is key. Talk with their doctor and see if osteoporosis is something to be concerned about with them. Also find out what can be done to help prevent broken or fractured bones even if osteoporosis is not an issue. Oftentimes it is as simple as taking an additional supplements (I know, not fun when you are already taking so many, but can seriously help.)

    Breaking some bone in your body is painful and so much more dangerous as an elder adult. Prevention is key, especially when there are options available when you play an active role.

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