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Strategies for Maintaining Bone Health in the Elderly



As we age, maintaining bone health becomes increasingly critical to preserving an active and independent lifestyle. For the elderly, falls and other medical events can cause fractures and bone issues that can quickly spiral into serious health complications. The unfortunate fact is that, as we get older, bones can no longer self-repair with the same efficacy. A small fracture can lead to an injury that affects a senior's movements for the rest of their life. However, all is not so dire. Proactive measures and preventative strategies can help limit decreases in bone density and bone health.

 

First, A Brief Bone Background:

 

Bones are composed of a matrix of collagen and minerals, primarily calcium and phosphate, which give them strength and rigidity. They provide structural support, protect vital organs, and enable movement by anchoring muscles. They also play a key role in blood cell production and mineral storage. Bone density peaks in early adulthood and declines as we age. This natural process accelerates after the age of 50, leading to conditions such as osteoporosis and osteopenia, where bones become brittle and more susceptible to fractures. Understanding these changes is the first step in taking proactive measures to maintain bone health.

 

Nutrition and Bones:

 

Calcium is a critical component of bone health, necessary for maintaining bone density and strength. For elderly adults, the recommended daily intake is typically around 1,200 mg. Excellent sources of calcium include dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt, as well as leafy greens, almonds, and fortified foods such as orange juice and cereals. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption in the body. Without sufficient vitamin D, the body cannot absorb the calcium from our diet, leading to weakened bones. Sun exposure is a natural source of vitamin D, but elderly adults often need supplements or fortified foods to meet their needs, including fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products.

 

In addition to calcium and vitamin D, other nutrients play a vital role in bone health. Magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin K are important for maintaining bone density and strength. Foods rich in these nutrients include nuts, seeds, whole grains, leafy greens, and dairy products. Maintaining a diet that includes suitable amounts of these important nutrients and minerals can help offset bone loss and help prevent complications as a result of bone injury, or even help prevent those injuries altogether!

 

Activity and Bones:

 

But what we eat is not the only factor in maintaining healthy bones. Engaging in regular physical activity is one of the most effective ways to strengthen bones in the elderly. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, dancing, and gardening, help stimulate bone formation. Resistance training, such as light weight lifting or resistance band exercises, can also enhance bone density by exerting stress on the bones, encouraging them to grow stronger. Activities like tai chi and yoga improve balance and flexibility, reducing the risk of falls and fractures. The activity doesn’t have to be necessarily strenuous like hours spent weightlifting at the gym or long endurance walks or runs. The important thing is using the body for activity, thus stimulating our bones to maintain a healthy density.

 

Keeping Track:

 

It can be difficult for the average person to get an accurate read on the condition of their bones (they’re inside our bodies after all). Regular bone density screenings are and important medical tool for keeping track of our bone health, and these screenings are essential for elderly individuals. Tests like the DEXA scan measure bone mineral density and help identify osteoporosis or osteopenia early, allowing for timely intervention. Elderly adults, especially women over 65 and men over 70, should have regular screenings as recommended by their healthcare providers.

 

In addition, bone health challenges can differ between men and women. Elderly women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, particularly after menopause due to the drop in estrogen levels, which helps maintain bone density. However, men are also at risk, though typically later in life, and should also take preventive measures to maintain bone health.

 

Conclusion

 

Maintaining bone health in the elderly requires a multifaceted approach involving nutrition, lifestyle choices, and medical interventions. Ensuring an adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, engaging in regular physical activity, avoiding harmful habits, and undergoing regular bone density screenings are key strategies. By adopting these practices and consulting healthcare providers for personalized advice, elderly individuals can enjoy strong and healthy bones, leading to a better quality of life.

 

Investing in bone health today can significantly enhance mobility and independence in the years to come. Start implementing these strategies now to reap the benefits of a robust skeletal system throughout your later years.

 

If you would like to speak to one of our geriatric care management experts about your situation, or if you have questions about aging strategies related to bone health, go to seniorsteps.org/book-online to schedule a free consultation call today.

 

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