There are so many things to be fearful of in life like spiders, severe weather and big, snarling dogs with big teeth!
Independent living in their home environment and the possibility of breaking a bone in that home environment are among the greatest joys and biggest fears for many aging in place seniors.
Family caregivers share those fears, too.
It can be especially fearful for seniors who have brittle bones, when the simple act of repositioning in bed or a chair, or just standing up, can result in a bone break. It can lead to a withdrawal of normal activities, isolation and depression too.
That broken bone can cost them the ability to live independently and their cherished home environment.
As we get older, our bones can become more fragile. Fearing a fall can also seem to lead to a fall because our senior loved ones begin moving in unsafe ways to avoid falls.
It can also cause them to give up some of the activities they love.
Osteoporosis is diagnosed when bones become weak and brittle to the point that fractures occur with a minimum amount of stress, such as when one is coughing.
This bone loss is usually the result of hormone changes, endocrine disorders or long-term steroid therapy that reduce the bone density. It can also happen as a result of an inadequate amount of available vitamin D and calcium to build and maintain strong bones.
Some 54 million people have osteoporosis which includes both women and men. One in four women over 65 have osteoporosis. It is estimated that one in two women and one in four men over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. That is a huge number and therefore a condition we need to take seriously and learn more about!
In addition to fractures, it is often accompanied by pain, a loss of height and changes in the skeleton such as curvature of the spine.
We can improve our bone density through proper diet, exercise especially weight bearing activities, and bone strengthening medications.
Tai Chi Improves Balance and Fall Prevention
If your senior loved one is at risk for osteoporosis or diagnosed with brittle bones already, you should be doing all you can to help them prevent falls in their home and while they are out.
One good way to prevent falls is to improve balance and muscle strength. A recent two year pilot program studied by researchers in Maine found that tai chi could help prevent falls.
Tai chi is an effective physical activity that helps counter act the effects of aging and chronic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It has been shown to improve posture, balance, and motor control for those with Parkinson’s disease as well.
Those participating in the tai chi program as part of the Maine Agency on Aging had 20% fewer falls, as well as a 20% reduction in anxiety surrounding falls, when participating twice a week. They also found there are benefits in relief from pain and improved mobility not to mention a heightened sense of calmness.
Vitamin D Supplements Impact Falling
Another study recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that older adults who were homebound and taking a vitamin D supplement had increased muscle strength.
Fall prevention in this population was very important to maintain independence but also prevent fractures that could end their aging in place dream and potentially even their lives.
Common denominators for homebound seniors are their lack of exposure to sunshine as well as a poor diet. Therefore, homebound seniors served by the Meals on Wheels program were given vitamin D supplements when their meals arrived. One group received a placebo. More than half of these seniors had insufficient vitamin D levels at the outset but showed an improved level to optimal levels after supplementation compared to the placebo group. These seniors reduced falls during this study period by half.
While a direct cause and effect between vitamin D levels being normal and reduced falls as a result of this study were not reported, more research will be conducted to further prove the benefits of vitamin D intake and falling in a larger trial group.
Taking a supplement of vitamin D, getting more sun exposure and including more sources of vitamin D in their diet can help seniors improve bone health to hopefully reduce falls with fractures.
Strategies to Improve Bone Strength
There are a few things we can all, including our senior loved ones, do to build bone density as we age.
- Get a bone density test so that your senior will know if more interventions are needed to prevent fractures.
- Add sources of calcium and vitamin D in your senior’s daily diet including these:
Dark green leafy vegetables
Eggs (with yolk)
Calcium fortified foods such as juice, oatmeal and cereal
Nuts and seeds especially walnuts and flaxseed oil (omega 3 especially for men increase markers for bone health)
- Limit your salt intake because excess sodium in the diet can result in losing calcium in your urine.
- Ask your doctor about vitamin/mineral supplements if you are worried about bones.
- Get out in the sunshine at least ten minutes a day.
- Do weight bearing activities like weight lifting, resistance training, yoga, tennis and dancing.
- Adjust your senior’s environment to eliminate fall hazards and help prevent falling, reducing the possibility of fractures.
As we age, decreasing bone health should not be considered to be inevitable. It also shouldn’t keep your senior from enjoying their life or fearing frequent, debilitating fractures, especially when we can change the course of this disease.
If we help our senior loved ones take action that can prevent bone loss and keep their muscles strong, they can stay resilient and independent to have optimal quality of life.