Preventing Bone Loss in Older Adults
Maintaining strong bones as we age will reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Every year in the United States, close to 1.5 million fractures are caused by osteoporosis, a condition affecting seniors especially where bones become weak and brittle. But what is the cause of this debilitating bone disease and how can we protect ourselves and prevent it?
While we know osteoporosis develops over many years, new research has shown that the active process of bone turnover, when the loss of old bone outpaces the rate of new bone growth, will result in losses of minerals and bone strength. As we age, the cells involved in the reabsorption of bone become unreliable, and cells involved in bone formation and the health of the skeleton lose their vitality. These age-related changes contribute to the increased occurrence of broken bones in the elderly, especially with the increased incidence of falls in older adults suffering from it.
The good news is that there’s things you can do every day to reduce the risk of bone loss and bone disease. And even if bone loss has started, there’s steps you can take to keep your bones strong, and slow or even reverse the onset of bone loss.
Studies have shown seniors who consume higher levels of protein are less likely to suffer hip fractures than seniors who do not. Older women should consume at least 46 grams of protein per day, and older men should up that to 56 grams. Protein can come from animal sources, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese and other dairy, or plants like legumes, nuts, seeds, and others. Pulses, like beans and lentils, are especially high in protein.
Other dietary factors that help with bone strength include dairy in general, which is high in calcium, and the antioxidants contained in fruits and vegetables. Vitamins and minerals are important for bone health, and overall health of course, by taking vitamin D and calcium alone are not likely to reduce the risk of bone fractures. The best thing you can do for your bone health is to get a screening test. A bone density x-ray test can give your healthcare provider an exact measurement of the strength and density of your bones, letting them know how much, if any, bone loss has occurred. Depending on what your doctor determines in your risk of fracture, treatment may consist of exercise and diet alterations to shore up lightly degraded bones, or it may involve prescription medications designed to counteract the effects of osteoporosis.
Secondary prevention of fractures is important, but it’s also a step you take far past prevention. Older adults who have already experienced one fall or a hip fracture are at the highest risk for another fracture within the first year, meaning aggressive preventative measures and prescription meds should be universally recommended for these patients.
Regular exercise, including weight training, will minimize bone loss and strengthen the supporting muscles., A recent study showed that nine months of regular practice of Tai Chi will improve bone density, and slow down turnover. Tai chi also improves balance and muscle strength, two things both important for reducing the likelihood of experiencing a fall.