One of the reasons that “healthcare” is so expensive is that the expensive option is usually researched more and pushed more than inexpensive options. Falls, particularly in the elderly are a major cause of illness and can at times be the trigger for admission to a care facility for someone who previously lived independently. This is not just because of the fall as such but is compounded by a hospital stay, which is always debilitating.
Governments, are often interested in ways to prevent falls and hence save themselves some dollars. We have also seen the creation of osteoporosis as a disease to be treated with the notion being, that doing so prevents fractured bones. There are a number of drugs, which are used to “treat” osteoporosis. Indeed the widespread use of hormone replacement therapy, which has now been discredited, was justified on the basis of preventing osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a “thinning” of the bones as we age. Like many aspects of the body there is change over the years. However it is not a function of age alone. It is a function of how we look after our bones along the way. The condition, like many in medicine, is defined statistically. In much the same way as someone is the shortest in the room, someone will have the least “dense” bones.
Of itself it is (with exceptions) a painless condition which of itself (again with exceptions) does no harm. Problems arise because of fractured (broken) bones. However this can occur in any age group including children so is not confined to the elderly.
So if our aim is to reduce fracture rates, then we should be interested in ways to prevent falls. Placing a whole lot of people on drugs does not do this. The best way to prevent fractures is to prevent falls. The best way to do this is through regular exercise so that muscles and coordination remain as good as they can be. Recent studies have shown that older people who participate in martial arts classes or regular dancing reduce their fall and fracture rate. Both are obviously forms of exercise. In addition to this they both, in different ways, emphasize co-ordination and balance. These are important in preventing falls.
Furthermore if we are really interested in our bones then we can be doing things to care for them. Adequate intake of green vegetables for calcium and minimizing sugary foods (which leach calcium out of the bones) is important. Regular aerobic and resistance exercise keeps the bones and muscles strong. The other key component is vitamin D, which is free form the sun.
One of the tragedies of aged care is to see elderly people denied fresh air and sunshine. Rather than giving them tablets for their bones, how about letting them sit in the sun for 15 minutes or so per day so they do not become vitamin D deficient.
So rather than see loss of bone strength as a disease needing pills, we need to see it as a consequence of not looking after our bones. Whilst sooner is better, it is never too late to start caring for your bones with simple measures as we have seen above.