A fall of any kind can be a frightening and devastating experience for people, but especially for women with osteoporosis, the condition that causes bones to become weak, brittle and easily breakable.
That can lead to a hospital stay and the need for hospital discharge services.
How Common is Osteoperosis?
The numbers from the National Osteoporosis Foundation are staggering: 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and another 34 million have low bone mass; $25 billion is the estimated cost of osteoporosis-related fractures by 2025; 24 percent of hip fracture patients age 50 and over die within the year following their fracture.
“Sometimes these falls are not preventable,” said Elizabeth Stein, a midwife and nurse in Manhattan, NY (www.askyourmidwife.com). Ms. Stein has many patients who suffer from osteoporosis. “Women fall because of osteoporosis—they break a bone and then they fall.” For example, a hip bone breaks, then so does a wrist or arm when the person tries to break the fall. In the most serious cases, someone with osteoporosis can break bones just from sneezing or bumping into furniture.
Risk of Osteoporosis After 50
One of the main reasons that women have osteoporosis more than men (20 percent of those affected by osteoporosis are men, according the National Osteoporosis Foundation) is due to their loss of estrogen after menopause in their 50s. “Once you don’t have estrogen, you start losing bone,” said Ms. Stein. Women also tend to be smaller and have thinner bones than men.
Experts agree that weight-bearing exercise, as well as activities like yoga that can help with balance, are beneficial before developing osteoporosis, and recommend checking with a doctor if you already have the condition and want to start a new exercise regimen.
Osteoporosis Prevention and Care
A calcium-rich diet—especially when combined with Vitamin D—is also beneficial. Fruits and vegetables are also good for bone health. Habits such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and not exercising can lead to osteoporosis.
For those already coping with osteoporosis—either yourself or a loved one--there are home care resources and tips for how to prevent falls both inside and outside of the home:
- Remove any tripping hazards such as loose rugs in the home.
- Don’t wear flips-flops or slippery socks. Choose low-heeled shoes with rubber soles for more solid footing.
- Install grab bars in the shower or bathtub and next to the toilet. Make sure the bathtub mat does not slip and also consider a shower chair or bench.
- Have railings on both sides of stairways.
- Use bed rails for getting in and out of bed.
- Wear clothing that fits properly and avoid items such as long skirts that can be tripped over, especially when going up or down stairs.
Protecting Aging Parents with Osteoporosis
A personal emergency response system is recommended if there is no in home caregiver for those living alone and suffering from osteoporosis. A cell phone or cordless phone that can be carried around in a pocket or fanny pack, is also advised so that even after a fall, someone can call for help.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation warns that some medications can also cause falls, as can some medical conditions such as low blood pressure. Just a few of the medications that can cause falls are sleeping pills, allergy medicines, blood pressure medicine and many more.
People with osteoporosis can still live healthy and active lives, all while decreasing their fall risks. Tai Chi is recommended for exercise because it does not include as much twisting and bending of the spine as other stretching activities, but it still helps with balance. Weight-bearing and muscle strengthening is also beneficial. Good balance depends in part on being able to see—such as the accurate height of a curb—and hear properly, so experts encourage people with osteoporosis to get both eyesight and hearing tested to also ensure proper balance.
For more information, visit The National Osteoporosis Foundation.