Osteoporosis and Our Aging Population
By: Nella Wennberg, PA-C
Osteoporosis is a common diagnosis found in older patients. We are becoming more aware of the devastating consequences of fractures resulting from fragile bones. As the population continues to age, it is increasingly important for us to recognize the preventative measures and treatment options available to treat osteoporosis.
Over 40 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone mass. This often develops unnoticed and can lead to fractures from a simple slip and fall. Hip, spine and wrist fractures are the most common type of fragility fractures associated with osteoporosis. These fractures can lead to hospitalization, need for surgery and long periods of recoveries. These injuries are also associated with increased mortality in the elderly population.
Osteoporosis, which literally means “porous bones”, is an age-related decrease in bone mass. The cells in our bones are constantly being reabsorbed and replaced as we age. For some people, the new bone is less dense, which results in weaker bone structure increasing one’s risk for fracture.
Risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing osteoporosis include smoking, female gender, post-menopausal status, small body frame, White or Asian ancestry, low calcium intake, excessive alcohol use, sedentary lifestyle, post-menopausal status and long-term use of certain drugs.
Most providers recommend Bone Density Testing (DEXA scan) in women over the age of 65 and men over the age of 70. This painless scan looks at the density of your bone and compares this to the bone density of the same gender and ethnicity, but at the age of peak bone density, typically when we are 20 to 25 years old. Blood work such as Calcium and Vitamin D levels may also be checked to help formulate a treatment plan.
Treatment is multifaceted and should be discussed with your primary care provider. Common treatments include calcium and vitamin D supplements, medications that increase your bone density, and weight-bearing exercises that emphasize balance training.
Prevention of osteoporosis is incredibly important. This involves living a healthy lifestyle that includes regular weight-bearing exercise, smoking cessation, low alcohol consumption, and a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. People under the age of 50 should consume at least 1000mg of calcium and 400-600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D daily. Those amounts increase to 1200mg of calcium and 800-1000 IUs of vitamin D daily in folks over the age of 50. There are exercise programs designed to increase your bone density such as Bone Builders at Sterling View Community Center. You could also contact your local gym or senior center for other options in your community.
Osteoporosis is a preventable disease. If you are concerned about whether you are developing weaker bones that increase your risk of fractures, discuss this with your primary care provider. They will be able to do some simple tests and review your individual risk factors to help determine if you will benefit from treatment.
Nella Wennberg is a certified orthopaedic Physician Assistant with Mansfield Orthopaedics. She sees patients with a variety of orthopaedic issues. Wennberg holds a Master of Health Professions from Northeastern University and holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Vermont. She has been with Mansfield Orthopaedics since 2001.