One of the most common disease affecting older individuals is osteoporosis – a condition that is characterized by low bone mass in addition to deterioration of bone tissue, which can lead to an increased risk of fractures. Because bone deterioration can develop over a number of years, an individual may not initially be aware that they even have the disease. It is only when they begin to develop fractures and bone breaks that they realize something is wrong, and by this time the disease is already in an advanced stage, which makes it more difficult to treat.

Once osteoporosis is in an advanced stage and your bones have become weaker, some of the symptoms that you may experience include:

• Back pain
• Easy fractures (typically of the spine, wrist and/or hip)
• Gradual loss of height
• Stooped posture
• Bone loss in the jaw (often seen on dental X-rays)

Along with age, there are other risk factors associated with osteoporosis. These include gender, body weight, low bone mineral density, previous fragility fractures, previous history of falls, as well as family history of the disease. Certain medical conditions can also contribute to the risk of osteoporosis as well as the risk of bone breaks, fractures, and falls; for example, rheumatological conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, malabsorption syndromes (caused by things like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), chronic kidney and/or liver disease, primary hyperparathyroidism, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as a condition known as hypogonadism which is a sex hormone deficiency, and even certain neurological disorders. Certain medications have also been known to increase the risk of fractures, including synthetic glucocorticoids (such as Prednisone), drugs to treat breast cancer or prostate cancer, other prostate drugs, contraceptive drugs (such as Depo Provera), gastrointestinal drugs (such as ones used to treat things like acid reflux, heartburn, and ulcers), anti-seizure/epileptic drugs, anti-depressants, thyroid hormone replacement, blood pressure medications, diuretics, as well as frequent use of acetaminophen, narcotic and opioid medications, and some blood thinners.

In order to minimize your risk factors and decrease your chances of developing osteoporosis, you should book an appointment with your family physician so that they can do an in-depth assessment of the health of your bones. In some cases, physicians may recommend that their patients have what’s known as a BMD (bone mineral density) test. This is a painless X-ray that can measure the amount of minerals – such as calcium – in your bones, and can be quite a helpful test in diagnosing osteoporosis. It’s also important for patients to ensure that they are getting enough calcium, protein and vitamin D. When it comes to calcium, it’s recommended that individuals between the ages of 19 and 50 get at least 1000mg per day, while those over the age of 50 need at least 1200mg. Some examples of calcium-rich foods and beverages include fortified orange juice, almonds, beans (such as white beans, navy beans and pinto beans), fish (such as sardines and salmon), broccoli, bok choy, kale, squash, and snow peas. If you’re unable to get sufficient calcium intake through the foods you eat, then you can try a supplement. Because there are very few food sources of vitamin D, supplementation is also suggested for this. As for protein, this is best found from seafood, white-meat poultry, lean beef, milk, eggs, soy, oats, and broccoli.