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Good Life: Getting right down to the bone

Regular exercise is good for bone health. - Andrew Leong/file
Regular exercise is good for bone health.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

“Osteoporosis? I don’t have to worry about that yet. Isn’t that just something only the extremely elderly get?”

Unfortunately, the answer is ‘no.’

The biggest misconception about this fairly common disease is that it is something people don’t need to worry about until they’re quite a bit older.

But according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, osteoporosis is common among Canadians starting at 40 years old. And oddly, only less than half of Canadians over that age reported taking calcium, vitamin D or both.

“It finally becomes a little more real for people only when they’ve been diagnosed or maybe someone they love has been diagnosed. It then becomes real. Then they want to know more about it,” said We Care Home Health Services director of operations Twyla Johnson.

Johnson’s been a registered nurse for 20 years, five of those years with We Care, overseeing clients living in Ladysmith to Victoria.

Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder characterized by low bone density and an elevated risk of fracture. While it is more prevalent among older individuals and women, it can strike anyone at any age.

Fractures associated with this disease, specifically of the spine and hip, are a significant cause of disability, mortality, and health care utilization.

However, they’re largely preventable. Taking age-appropriate doses of calcium and vitamin D supplements and taking part in impact exercise, such as walking or jogging, are recommended.

“It’s a huge issue, and as we call South Island the Florida of retirement places, we’re seeing quite a large population that’s aging, and it’s coming up often.”

Johnson said all their clients are assessed for their risks of falling. Reviewing medications and dosages is extremely important as well as checking the client’s environment.

Do they have pets weaving in and out of their legs as they walk? What about chronic pain, that would make getting around more difficult? How’s their eyesight? Are they using their canes or walkers if needed?

“One of the biggest things we run into is people with canes or walkers who are flat out refusing to use them,” she said.

For Johnson, addressing osteoporosis at an early stage or before it even hits, is ideal.

“There’s this perception out there that everyone ages quite badly, but really a lot of people age quite well and are able to live healthy lives and even live comfortably at home,” she said. “And that’s really encouraging.”

Many risk factors lead to bone loss and osteoporosis. Unfortunately, you can’t avoid them all and genetic factors have their role. Small, thin women are at a greater risk, as well as Caucasian and Asian women. And family history does play a part.

There are some steps, however, you can take to keep your bones in tip-top shape. Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercise frequently and avoid alcohol consumption and smoking.

“Weight bearing exercises are great,” said Johnson. “Working with some weights, in a gentle way, is really beneficial.”

And because osteoporosis is a silent disease, you don’t typically know you have until you break a bone, it’s not a bad idea to get a bone density scan.

We Care works in conjunction with the Ingram Pharmacy in Duncan to run regular bone density scan clinics, but scans are also available by appointment by calling ahead 250-746-5191.

Two different things

Osteoporosis is often confused with osteoarthritis, although they are completely different conditions.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease, in which the quality of bone is reduced. Arthritis, on the other hand, is a disease of the joints and surrounding tissue.

Someone can have both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis at the same time.

The prefix osteo which means ‘bone’ is the only thing they have in common.

An accurate diagnosis is important.

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