November 19, 2014
Seniors are often warned to avoid falls. But why? Why is this demographic so frequently singled out when fall injuries can prove dangerous to anyone at any age?
Osteoporosis. It is this fear that prompts healthcare providers to constantly caution senior patients about fall hazards such as slippery bath tiles and loose rugs. Though many conditions can diminish motor coordination and increase fall risks, osteoporosis can turn a slip and fall accident into a life-threatening event. Understanding this disease, which affects approximately 40 million people in the United States, is the first step in stopping it.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation calls osteoporosis “a disease of the bones.” Bone is mostly porous tissue; otherwise the skeletal system would be so heavy as to render movement nearly impossible. The spongy nature of bone also allows it to absorb pressure and bend with it. However, a variety of circumstances can lead to excessively porous bone that easily breaks. When the density of the skeletal system becomes severely low, it is termed osteoporosis.
Bone reaches peak density in early adulthood. New bone growth then slows, which is why a person is at greater risk for osteoporosis at 75 than 25. Older women in particular suffer a high rate of osteoporosis because their bodies reduce the production of estrogen, a hormone that bolsters bone health. Should a fall occur, a fracture could mean long-term hospitalization and permanent disability, which may prevent many seniors from staying put at home.
Preventing osteoporosis is central to the health of all seniors. To keep bones healthy, dense, and strong, eat a nutrient-rich diet that contains plenty of calcium and vitamin D. Weight-bearing exercise can also protect the skeletal system. Individuals age 50 or older may also want to consult a doctor for a bone density screening. If osteoporosis is found, a physician can begin treatment to stabilize and even reverse this condition.
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