- Osteoporosis is a common condition, which most often affects those over 60.
- It can be difficult to diagnose as there are no specific symptoms associated with the condition.
- Caring for someone with osteoporosis means helping them to stay safe, comfortable, and enjoy their life to the fullest.
Osteoporosis is a condition that attacks the integrity of the bones, making them weak, and prone to fractures or breaks. Women are affected by the condition more frequently than men, but anyone over the age of 60 has the potential to develop the condition.
There are no early warning signs to indicate that someone’s bones are affected. Often, the first suggestion that something is wrong, is when an older person falls and breaks a bone.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is Greek for ‘porous bone’, and is a skeletal disorder that causes a loss of bone mass, making bones weaker over time.
It’s often referred to as the ‘silent disease’, as there are no obvious symptoms of the condition. Despite this, it is estimated that 3.5 million people over the age of 50 in the UK are living with osteoporosis.
Because there are no symptoms, usually diagnosis only happens once an older person has broken a bone. Statistics show that approximately 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men, over the age of 50, will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Types of osteoporosis
There are two main types of osteoporosis, primary and secondary.
Primary – the main type of osteoporosis, which is directly related to aging, and lower oestrogen levels in women.
Secondary – Osteoporosis which occurs as the result of another condition, such as coeliac disease, cancer, or hormone problems. It may also occur due to the medications a person is taking.
When discussing osteoporosis, you may come across the term ‘osteopenia’ which is a condition that can sometimes develop into osteoporosis. Osteopenia happens when your bones begin to lose density, and the inside of the bones become brittle due to a loss of calcium.
What causes osteoporosis?
Some people are genetically more prone to osteoporosis, but there are several other factors that can also affect a person’s likelihood of developing the condition.
Women are more likely than men to develop osteoporosis, and tend to experience symptoms at an earlier age. This may be linked to the hormonal changes which take place during the menopause – as the levels of estrogen in the body fall, bones tend to become more fragile.
Women’s bones also tend to be naturally weaker than men’s too. However, men over the age of 70 can also be prone to developing osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis risk factors
There are several other risk factors which can increase a person’s likelihood of developing osteoporosis, including:
- Being excessively overweight, or underweight
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Lack of exercise or weight-bearing activity, such as walking, dancing, or light aerobics
- Poor diet, lacking in vitamins and minerals
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Unusual amount of bone mass loss after the age of 30
- Lower levels of calcium and Vitamin D
- Lower testosterone levels in men
How to care for osteoporosis
Caring for osteoporosis in the right way is important for a loved one’s safety and wellbeing. From prevention and treatment, to support with living with the condition, there are plenty of ways to help.
Keeping bones strong
Unfortunately, osteoporosis is irreversible, however, if you or your loved one are more susceptible, there are a few things you can try to help prevent or delay the onset of the condition.
If you do suspect your elderly loved one is at risk of osteoporosis, you should encourage them to undergo a bone density scan, which can detect if a person’s bones are becoming porous and fragile.
To slow down or prevent the onset of osteoporosis, the following can help:
- Making an effort to reduce relevant risk factors for osteoporosis
- Taking part in weight-bearing activities
- Performing exercises to build muscle and bone
Exercises for osteoporosis prevention
- Aerobics and water aerobics
- Stair climbing, walking and hiking
- Tennis and badminton
- Yoga and Tai-chi
Exercises to build muscle and bone
- Lifting weights
- Day-to-day lifting, such as children or shopping bags
- Using ankle and wrist weights
- Bodyweight exercises
Osteoporosis treatment and management
There are various ways you can manage the treatment and care of osteoporosis at home – from preventing falls to trialling different medications.
Preventing falls and accidents
Preventing falls is an important part of managing osteoporosis, as it is one of the most significant causes of broken bones. Even a small fall for someone with osteoporosis can cause fractures. There are some actions that you can take in the home to prevent falls and bumps, such as:
- Removing trip hazards such as rugs, doorstops and wires
- Moving furniture with sharp edges
- Placing anti-slip mats to the bottom of the bath and shower, in addition to the bathroom floor
- Encourage regular sight and hearing tests
Arranging and attending appointments
A loved one with osteoporosis may need to attend more medical appointments, including physio, regular hearing tests, and visits to their GP. It may be beneficial to have a calendar showing all upcoming appointments displayed in your loved one’s home. This way, everyone will be aware of the next appointment, including yourself, as well as any live-in or additional carers.
One of the other main treatments for osteoporosis is taking medication that promotes bone growth. Many individuals can manage and administer their medicine themselves, but if not, ensure that this is included in their osteoporosis care plan.
There are other options for medication as well, including hormone-based treatments. Speak to your GP about the best options for your loved one.
Follow a healthy lifestyle together
A healthy lifestyle is an essential part of osteoporosis care. Stopping smoking and cutting down on caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods is highly recommended. It’s also important to prepare meals that are rich in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K and zinc.
Try and make activities that promote movement a weekly event, such as doing the grocery shop. It may not always be possible, but having it built into both of your weekly schedules can be helpful.
The benefits of a live-in caregiver
The thought of a fall for older people with osteoporosis can be frightening. They can result in painful fractures and breaks, with the hips, spine, and wrists being particularly vulnerable.
The fear of hurting themselves can often lead to people to becoming in-active, to minimise the risk. This is counter-productive, as it causes increased stiffness, loss of balance and an increased likelihood of falling.
A live-in carer can help to support mobility, medication administration, and treatment management, as well as other aspects of day-to-day life, such as cooking and cleaning.
Live-in care service providers such as Elder go to great lengths to see that carers are carefully matched with care recipients. This ensures that your loved one and their carer will have plenty in common, enabling them to form a friendship, and happily share the same living space.
Your loved one can remain in their much-loved home, surrounded by a lifetime’s possessions and memories. Meanwhile, you can be confident that your loved one is safe, happy, and in the capable hands of a compassionate and experienced live-in carer.
Questions you might have
Fractures that occur due to osteoporosis are most commonly found in the hips, wrists or spine. Many people don’t realise they have osteoporosis until a fracture occurs.
Whilst we know foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D are good, there are actually foods which can be bad for those with osteoporosis. These include:
– High salt foods (excess consumption can lead to calcium loss)
– Wheat bran
We know that aerobic exercises and weight-bearing activities are recommended, but high-impact exercise is not. This includes things such as jumping, running and jogging. These activities can lead to weakened bones and fractures – instead, trying swimming for low-impact exercise.
You can take supplements for Vitamin D when living with osteoporosis, and your GP should be able to recommend a specific amount tailored to your needs.