Today, August 21st, is Senior Citizens Day. We thought it would be fitting to discuss an important topic with which many seniors are faced. Aging is a natural life process and certain changes in the body are to be expected; however, just because you are aging, does not automatically mean that you become frail. Being elderly and being frail are two very different things. One particular diagnosis that can be related to frailty is osteoporosis. Once again, this condition does not occur simply because you are older now. It is more complicated than that, and an issue which should be addressed at several stages of life.
Osteoporosis is classified as a bone disease which thins and weakens the bones making them more prone to fracture (break). It is important to understand that bone is living tissue which is constantly being produced and replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when either not enough new bone is created or too much existing bone is absorbed, or both. Up until your 20’s or 30’s, your body produces more bone than is being absorbed which causes the bones to grow. After approximately 30 years of age, a person’s bone mass stops increasing. Bone is then gradually absorbed more than it is produced. The rate of bone loss is increased after menopause, thus making women more likely to be affected by osteoporosis; but by age 65-70, men and women are back to losing bone at approximately the same rate. Loss of bone mass may be a natural process; but with osteoporosis, the degree of bone loss becomes too great and no longer natural.
So, if osteoporosis isn’t a natural part of the aging process, what causes it? Unfortunately, sometimes there is no known cause for this condition or the problem is hereditary. These particular cases are difficult to avoid. Gender, age, ethnicity, family history, and previous history of fracture can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. This disease is more common in white and Asian post menopausal women. Possible causes for bone loss include:
- Drops in estrogen in women (ex. post menopause) and testosterone in men
- Being bedridden or having a sedentary lifestyle
- Various medical conditions (ex. overactive thyroid, parathyroid, or adrenal glands)
- Certain medications (ex. steroids including corticosteroids and glucocorticoids; meds for seizures, depression, gastric reflux, cancer, and transplant rejection)
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Alcoholism or drinking large amounts of alcohol
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Eating disorders or having a low body weight
- Amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycle) for an extended period of time
- Poor diet with low calcium intake
- Gastric bypass surgery (due to decreased stomach surface to absorb calcium)
Regardless of the cause, one complication of osteoporosis is a fracture, especially in the spine or hips. Hip fractures often result from a fall and can be very debilitating, even resulting in death postoperatively. Spinal fractures are commonly the result of compression and not a traumatic event. Flexion (bending forward), in particular, can increase your risk of developing a compression fracture when your bones are weakened. Read our next blog to find out how to save your bones from osteoporosis and fractures as a result of osteoporosis. Thank you for reading and stay active.