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Senior Health: Osteoporosis is a concern for many seniors …

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 54 million Americans have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. The NOF says approximately one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis. A fracture sustained in one’s senior years can be life changing.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder where bone becomes progressively less dense and more brittle, leading to fractures.

Does osteoporosis only affect women?

Most people think that this disease impacts only women. However, it occurs in both men and women. In fact, according to the NOF, men over age 50 have a greater risk of experiencing an osteoporosis-related fracture than developing symptomatic prostate cancer.

What are the risk factors for this disease?

Women with estrogen deficiency and patients taking certain medications, such as prednisone for asthma or arthritis, are at greater risk for osteoporosis. Other risk factors include tobacco smoking, bone fractures after age 50, family history, long-term use of seizure medicine, excessive alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet (with low calcium intake) and low body weight. In men, low levels of testosterone (hypogonadism) can lead to osteoporosis.

Why is osteoporosis a serious concern for seniors?

It is particularly critical to prevent fractures in the elderly. The impacts of osteoporosis in this population are painful and significant. Bone fractures can cause a loss of mobility and independence. Many seniors who suffer fractures experience a diminished quality of life as well as medical complications that shorten life expectancy.

How can I tell if I have osteoporosis? Are there any symptoms?

Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease” because often there are no symptoms. Typically, this disease is not diagnosed in the elderly until a fracture has occurred. Fortunately, there are tests that measure bone density. Screening is fast and painless. Testing measures bone mass to determine the patient’s risk of fracture. Most insurance plans cover bone density screening in postmenopausal women. Screening in men is more controversial but is probably indicated when multiple risk factors are present.

Is there any prevention for this disease?

A lifetime of building a strong skeletal system will help you avoid osteoporosis as you age. Plus, these steps recommended by the NOF can enhance bone health:

1. Eat a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Most experts suggest 1,200 mg of elemental calcium (ideally in food) and 400-800 IU of vitamin D3.

2. Perform weight-bearing exercise such as walking regularly.

3. Enjoy a healthy lifestyle — one without smoking and excessive alcohol.

4. Talk to your doctor about bone health.

5. Screening and medication if needed.

Where can I get more information about this disease?

If you have concerns about osteoporosis, talk to your health care provider. Bone density screening is offered at most hospitals including Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, and at Cobleskill Regional Hospital, O’Connor Hospital in Delhi and Little Falls Hospital. For more information about this disease, you can also contact the National Osteoporosis Foundation at or by calling 1-800-223-9994.

Dr. Douglas M. DeLong is the division chief of general internal medicine at Bassett Healthcare in Cooperstown.

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