Protect your bones for a long, active life
“It’s called the ‘Silver Tsunami,’” says Julie Merrill, PA-C, Director and Lead Clinician of the GBMC Healthy Bones Program for Osteoporosis and Fracture Prevention at GBMC Health Partners Orthopaedics. “Approximately 10 million of Americans 65 and older have osteoporosis.”
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from skeletal tissue loss. The diagnosis is often the result of calcium or vitamin D deficiencies or hormonal changes. Merrill says post-menopausal women have the highest risk of osteoporosis because of their bodies’ decrease in estrogen production, which protects the bones.
“Half of all women, and one in three men, will break a bone in their lifetime due to osteoporosis,” she explains. “For women, the number of fractures per year due to osteoporosis is greater than that of heart attack, stroke, and breast cancer combined.”
Osteoporosis-related fractures do more than simply cause pain, Merrill says.
“Hip and spine fractures can rob people of their independence and mobility. Twenty-five percent of people who suffer from a fragility hip fracture will be admitted to an assisted living facility, and 50 percent of people will never have the same level of mobility again,” she says.
In addition, there’s an added risk of breaking another bone. Once you’ve suffered one fragility fracture, you are five times more likely to suffer another fracture within the year.
There are some ways to minimize your risk of a diagnosis, but some risk factors for osteoporosis are unavoidable.
“If you have a family history of osteoporosis, or if you have a parent who broke a hip due to osteoporosis, that’s a major risk factor,” Merrill says.
Keeping alcohol consumption to two drinks or less a day, quitting smoking, performing regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises, and maintaining a healthy weight (not being underweight) are all ways to lower your chances of both an osteoporosis diagnosis and the chances of a fragility fracture.
Merrill also recommends talking to your healthcare provider to ensure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Starting September 1, GBMC Health Partners Primary Care patients may be able to utilize the Healthy Bones program right in their primary care office—GBMC Health Partners Padonia on Thursdays and GBMC Health Partners Primary Care Owings Mills (Suite 306) on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Ask your provider when you should have a bone density (DXA) scan. Medicare will cover the test if you’re 65 or older, but if you’re younger and have risk factors, it may be covered as well,” she explains.
Merrill also recommends checking out an online calcium calculator to determine your recommended calcium amount to make sure you’re getting the right amount. She adds there are also hormone therapies and hormone-like treatments that can help maintain bone density. These may be an option for women within the first 10 years of menopause.
Above all, Merrill encourages everyone to stay on top of their bone health. She says often people don’t realize a fracture really means a loss of independence, which is something most people hope to avoid at all costs.
“People are more afraid of losing their independence than they are of fracturing their hip or even dying,” she says. “There are around 180,000 nursing home admissions each year because of osteoporosis-related fractures. If we recognize the risk factors and start managing our bone health now, many of those admissions could be avoided and we can live long, active, independent lives.”