Back in 2010 an X-ray of my entire body revealed that I had osteopenia. This diagnosis alerts the patient to watch for the beginnings of osteoporosis – which directly translates as “porous bone” – a disease in which the density and quality of bone are reduced.
As our bones become more porous and fragile, the risk of fracture greatly increases. This bone loss occurs progressively and shows little or no outward symptoms until a fracture occurs. Once bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, symptoms may arise such as back pain caused by a slight fracture or damaged vertebrae, loss of height or stooped posture. It’s even possible to suffer a fracture without knowing how or when it occurred.
Last week I had a new X-ray performed. Known as a bone density scan, the test was quick, easy and painless. I simply made an appointment at the lab and was done in less than half an hour.
Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle. In severe cases, a seemingly minor fall can cause a fracture. The same may even occur from mild stresses such as bending over or coughing. Such fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist or spine. As we age the creation of new bone can’t keep up with the deterioration of old bone. Osteoporosis can affect both men and women, but as with all the other annoying things that come post-menopause, women are more likely to suffer from it and are at higher risk after age 50.
My doctor and I have an appointment next week to discuss options, but of course I had to find out all I could on the subject. I don’t want to end up like a bag of empty skin with only bone fragments holding me together! I found out the bone density scan results lay out a comparison of healthy bone levels to mine, and I seemed to be right over the healthy limit. I hope that I’m correct in assuming that I can control or even reverse my diagnosis with suggested diet, supplements and exercise. My favorite thing to do ... NOT!
Since I don’t smoke or consume alcohol anymore, both of which contribute to osteoporosis, I chalk up my diagnosis to a more sedentary lifestyle and lack of weight-bearing exercise. I guess that needs to change right now. Warm up that treadmill, Grandpa! I try to have a balanced diet and not overeat, but doctors encourage patients to increase consumption of protein and calcium-enriched foods as they’re two of the essential building blocks of good bone health. Chicken, eggs, low-fat dairy products such as milk and cottage cheese, soy, nuts, salmon, sardines, dark leafy vegetables and lentils are excellent sources.
I began drinking a whey protein shake every day. They’re not only high in protein, but they taste pretty good, too. Try the chocolate. Calcium is also a balancing act. I read that supplements can help, but that too much calcium can cause kidney stones. I wish this was easier, but like everything else, good health is a constant juggling act. The Institute of Medicine recommends a total daily calcium intake for people over 50 — from supplements and diet combined — should be no more than 2,000 milligrams. I also take vitamin D. It improves the body’s ability to absorb calcium and assists bone health in other ways. People are physically able to absorb adequate amounts of vitamin D from sunlight, but the sun may not be a good source if you’re housebound or if you regularly use sunscreen. Some people avoid the sun entirely due to skin cancer risk. Although there’s no standard dosage of vitamin D, a good starting point for adults is 600 to 800 international units (IU) a day through food or supplements. For people without other sources of vitamin D, and especially those with limited sun exposure, a supplement may be needed. Most multivitamin products contain between 600 and 800 IU of vitamin D. According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 4,000 IU per day is safe for most people.
Since balance becomes more difficult as we age, we’re at greater risk of falls. Bone density scan tests are covered by most Medicare plans. After the test is complete, you’ll sit down with your doctor to discuss options for care and treatment of osteopenia or osteoporosis. Also, taking extra care by holding onto things or using a walker may just save you from a dreadful tumble. If it turns out that the condition is severe, you may need medication. Only you and your doctor can determine the right path for you. I’m hoping my physician will tell me that I’m now on that right path.
Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with senior care and advocacy groups. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.