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Osteoporosis: Causes and Prevention


Osteoporosis is a progressive decrease in the density of bones that weakens the bone. It is responsible for an annual 1.5 million fractures, including 300,000 hip fractures, 500,000 spinal fractures, and 200,000 wrist fractures. One third of all American women over 50 will have a spinal fracture. Osteoporosis is largely preventable with adequate calcium and exercise.

One in four women who are 65 years old will likely suffer a broken bone from osteoporosis by the time she reaches 85 years old. And one third of them will suffer a broken hip by age 90. Trust me, women aren't suffering these breaks because they're into extreme sports. It happens just getting out of bed, or even reaching for something. My mom has this condition and recently had a coughing spell leaving her with a broken rib. A slight fall on another occasion left her with a severely fractured wrist. Even though she fears a hip fracture, she stays active but has become much more cautious in her moving about.

Why are our mothers breaking their bones? Osteoporosis simply means porous bones. Ever buy coral for your goldfish bowl or aquarium? Mom's bones are pretty similar. They might seem hard but they are porous. The more porous the bone, the less dense it is, making the bone structurally weak. Like the coral, the bones feel hard but they are also brittle. All too often, we think of our bones like the skeletons clanging away at Halloween. But real-life skeletons are dynamic; they add and subtract calcium, rely on bone-building minerals, and are affected by hormones.

After menopause women lose bone mass. Most of the loss occurs the first 10 years after menopause. So, to any 50-year-olds reading this book who think that this is a 70s thing: You're wrong! From now on, calcium tablets should be on your shopping list. Taking calcium should become as second nature as brushing your teeth. The National Institutes of Health recommends that postmenopausal women should take 1,500 milligrams a day of calcium, along with vitamin D, which helps bones absorb calcium. Younger women should take 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day. Women who are at most risk are Caucasians (the fairer the complexion, the greater the risk), women who are thin and small-boned, those whose mothers had osteoporosis, and women who smoke, drink excessive alcohol, experience early menopause, or have taken prednisone (an anti-inflammatory steroidal drug).

Whatever your mom's age, she still can help her bones by taking calcium supplements, eating calcium rich foods, stopping smoking, and exercising. Lifting weights is great and so is walking, swimming, water aerobics, or riding a bike. Even at her age Mom can strengthen her bones. The two of you must also become watchdogs on preventing falls. Mom needs to stay home during ice storms (not everybody is a snowbird); get rid of throw rugs that take her on a magic carpet ride, landing her on her tail bone; wear nonskid shoes; ditch the floppy slippers; and make sure the steps are clear, well lit, and the hand rail is sturdy.

More on: Aging Parents


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents © 2001 by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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