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Osteoporosis Care: Is There a Cure for Osteoporosis in the Elderly?

What is osteoporosis?

When we think of bones, we think of the smooth, white surface of the outside of a bone. The inside of the bone, however, consists of a softer material that resembles that of a sponge or honeycomb. While the hard outer surface gives the bone its weight-bearing strength, the spongy interior provides the bone with flexibility and shock resistance.

Osteoporosis develops when the gaps within this interior honeycomb structure expand, making the material less dense. Everyone experiences a loss of bone density naturally from about age 35 onwards as a natural result of ageing.

However, those diagnosed with osteoporosis will have a bone density that falls significantly below the average level for their age. Low bone density can lead to fractures and broken bones as a result of normal activities, such as walking, coughing, sneezing or merely standing up.

Some early signs of osteoporosis include receding gums, weakened grip and brittle nails. More advanced osteoporosis can lead to a permanently stooped or hunched back, neck and back pain and loss of height.

The NHS estimates that 3 million people are living with osteoporosis in the UK. However, the majority do not become aware that they have the condition as they attribute the visible symptoms to the normal ageing process. Diagnosis usually occurs after a broken bone or fracture.

What causes osteoporosis?

Several health factors can lead to the development of osteoporosis:

Ageing - as part of the ageing process, the body’s natural processes responsible for cell and tissue repair start to slow down, resulting in the interior bone tissue breaking down faster than it can be rebuilt, leading to osteoporosis.

Decrease in hormone levels - in both men and women, osteoporosis can be caused by a decline in hormone levels (oestrogen in women and testosterone in men).

Osteoporosis is more common in women as a sudden decrease in oestrogen levels (which occurs as a result of menopause, or surgical removal of the ovaries to treat ovarian cancer) leads to a rapid reduction in bone density. Meanwhile, the condition can develop in men who have hypogonadism (which causes abnormally low testosterone levels).

Family history - people with relatives who develop osteoporosis, or whose parents experience hip fractures are more likely to develop the condition themselves. Therefore, if there is a family history of osteoporosis, it is advisable to get screened early and implement preventative lifestyle changes to help strengthen bone density.

Certain medical conditions - some medical conditions increase the chance of osteoporosis developing, such as hyperthyroidism and rheumatoid arthritis. Certain digestive disorders that affect the absorption of vitamins and minerals (such as Crohn’s disease and coeliac disease) and conditions affecting the adrenal glands (such as Cushing’s syndrome) can cause an increased chance.

Some medications - when medications are taken for an extended period, they can potentially contribute to osteoporosis. Medications include corticosteroids (a type of anti-inflammatory medicine that is commonly used to treat arthritis and asthma) and anti-epilepsy medicines.

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Is there a cure for osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis develops over a long period and has few visible symptoms, meaning the best way to determine whether someone has the condition is to have a consultation with a GP.

A doctor will complete a risk assessment questionnaire to assess the likelihood of future fractures or breakages and, if required, may also perform a bone density scan to determine the stage to which the condition has progressed. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for osteoporosis. The best form of osteoporosis care is to focus on mitigating and managing the disease.

The first stage of osteoporosis is known as osteopenia. The condition occurs when bone density has started to decrease, but not so significantly as to be classed as osteoporosis. With specific lifestyle changes, it is sometimes possible to prevent osteopenia from developing into osteoporosis.

Lifestyle changes include:

  • Quitting, or cutting back on smoking and alcohol consumption
  • Maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise
  • Ensuring sufficient intake of calcium, vitamin D and other minerals
  • Weight-bearing and resistance exercises to improve bone strength
  • Changing medication used to treat other conditions which are associated with the development of osteoporosis

However, if the screening shows that bone density is already so low as to be classed as osteoporosis, then the most commonly prescribed treatment options to slow down the rate of bone thinning are:

  • Specialist osteoporosis medication
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Parathyroid hormone therapy (used for advanced osteoporosis)

Your loved one’s doctor may also recommend the use of home aids and modifications to assist with mobility and decrease the risk of falls.

Caring for a loved one with osteoporosis

The most significant complication arising out of osteoporosis is an increased possibility of broken or fractured bones as a result of performing everyday activities.

Not only is a break or fracture painful, but it can lead to fear and frustration, as your loved one may feel that their body is not functioning as expected. Also, recovering from a break or a fracture takes several weeks, during which time mobility and independence are affected.

As part of your loved one’s osteoporosis care, you may choose to use a reputable care service. A specialist elderly and dementia care service provider such as Elder can provide private care for your loved one in the familiarity of their own home.

Your loved one will receive home care from a trained carer not only in a physical and medical capacity but in the sense of emotional support and companionship as well.

This form of elderly care is especially important if your loved one is not able to leave their home due to an injury, or you are not able to visit them often.

Full-time live-in care can also help ease your worries, knowing that someone is on hand at all times to assist your loved one, which is vital if they injure themselves unexpectedly.

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