Worldwide, osteoporosis, or “brittle bone disease” is the leading cause of hip fractures. As we reach our 60s and 70s, our risk of developing osteoporosis naturally increases.
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), most hip fractures occur between 75 and 79 years of age. And, while nearly 75% of hip fractures occur in women, men are vulnerable too.
Hip fractures should be taken very seriously: they often require surgery and can lead to a loss of independence, poorer quality of life, and sometimes even death.
Risk factors for osteoporosis
If you have osteoporosis, it means that the density and quality of your bones are reduced. As your bones lose their strength and become more porous and fragile, your risk of a fracture increases.
Apart from an older age, risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- A low body weight.
- Being tall.
- Doing too little exercise.
- Using medication that leads to bone loss (g. cortisone, thyroid medicine, chemotherapy).
- Drinking alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
- Vision problems.
- Having a condition that increases your risk for falls (e.g. an unsteady gait or weak muscles).
- Living in an old-age home or another assisted-care facility.
How to prevent osteoporosis
There’s no cure for osteoporosis, but there are ways to prevent it and manage it if it develops.
Your body’s ability to absorb calcium declines with age, which is why you need higher amounts of this mineral as you get older. A few tips:
- Follow a well-balanced diet that provides enough calcium from dairy (e.g. milk, cheese and yoghurt).
- Eat lots of green vegetables, canned fish and nuts– all of which contain calcium.
- If you don’t eat dairy, speak to your dietician about supplementation.
The average senior also needs about 800-1 000 IU of Vitamin D a day to keep their bones strong. While getting some sun exposure every day is useful, you probably need a supplement to get to this amount. Ask your doctor to recommend a good product.
It’s important to move as much as possible. “Exercise is essential for bone health at any age,” says the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa (NOF). “It’s never too late to start a healthy bone exercise programme, even if you’re at high risk for the disease, or have already developed osteoporosis.”
Exercise improves balance and coordination and strengthens bones and muscles, helping to prevent falls and fractures. Walking and gentle resistance training are two of the best ways of improving bone strength.
How to prevent falls
Tips from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help prevent falls and fractures:
- If any of your medication makes you feel dizzy or sleepy, ask your doctor for alternatives.
- Have your eyes regularly tested to see if you need an updated prescription.
- Remove objects in and around your home that could increase your risk for falls (e.g. loose rugs or stones).
- Add grab bars to bath and shower areas.
- Install railings on both sides of the stairs.