Help Protect Your Loved One From Bone Fractures

As a caregiver to someone with osteoporosis, there’s one especially important fact to always keep in mind: “As soon as someone receives a diagnosis of osteoporosis, it’s time to take the risk of fracture very seriously,” says Nahid Rianon, MD, a specialist in internal and geriatric medicine at the Family Medicine and Geriatrics Clinic at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. And of course, the more bone loss that’s been detected on a bone density test, the higher the risk is for fracture. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to help your loved one protect her bones.

To help prevent a fracture, encourage your loved one to:
  • Eat a bone-building diet. “Emphasize a calcium-rich diet, which includes dairy and green leafy vegetables, such as kale and collards,” says Dr. Rianon, noting that the magnesium available in a multivitamin is often sufficient to help with calcium absorption. Your loved one should aim for 1,200-1,500 mg of calcium a day. If her diet isn’t the best, encourage her to talk with her healthcare provider about taking supplements to make up for any shortfalls. For example, Dr. Rianon notes that, in addition to magnesium, vitamin D is also important for calcium absorption. “Patients should ask their doctor about taking supplemental vitamin D—at least 800-1,000 IU daily. You can also buy vitamin D-fortified foods, such as orange juice,” she says.
  • Get the right kind of exercise. Weight-bearing exercise is important. “The amount of weight you hit the ground with helps generate an opposite force in the body that helps make bone,” says Dr. Rianon, who notes that the body still creates bone even when someone has osteoporosis. Walking, which is a weight-bearing activity, can be done outdoors or on a treadmill, as long as balance is not a problem. You can even hold your loved one’s hand and walk inside the house!
  • Take special care when lifting heavy objects. Many people don’t know that fractures of the spine—not the hip—are the most common type of osteoporosis-related fracture. Therefore, Dr. Rianon cautions against forward bending, which compresses the vertebrae of the spine and increases the risk of fracture. “The way to pick something up from the floor is to keep the back straight and drop at the knee,” she says. “If arthritis makes this impossible, then caregivers should make sure that frequently used items are within arm’s reach of their loved ones. This can help prevent falls.”
    Tip: For more on fall prevention, see 7 Unexpected Ways To Make Your Home Safe.
After a fracture, your loved one also needs to:
  • Keep calcium intake high. “After a fracture, patients still need to get between 1,200 and 1,500 mg daily from their diet and/or supplements,” says Dr. Rianon. “Calcium citrate is an easily absorbable form of calcium.”
  • Adjust her exercise regimen. After breaking a bone, your loved one may have more physical limitations, greater pain and less muscle strength. “With pain management a potential new issue, the person may not be able to exercise much,” says Dr. Rianon. “It’s important to discuss a customized plan with a physical therapist.”
  • Guard against depression. In many cases, says Dr. Rianon, patients learn of their osteoporosis diagnosis only after they’ve had a fracture. “Even though spinal fractures are more common, we hear more about hip fractures because they’re the most devastating, with a long recovery time,” she says. “Most people who’ve sustained hip fractures need assistance—canes, walkers or wheelchairs—and never regain their previous mobility, which can lead to depression.” Dr. Rianon suggests that caregivers encourage their loved ones to attend physical therapy to boost their spirits and take inspiration from other patients at the facility who have successfully mastered similar therapeutic exercises. And don’t forget to take care of yourself: “Dealing with your loved one’s physical limitations and emotional hardships can be burdensome and even change your lifestyle,” Dr. Rianon says. “It’s important to seek out support from other family members and friends.”

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