Bedsides possible gray hair, what do half of all women and a quarter of all men over the age of 50 have in common? During their lifetimes, they are likely to fracture a bone, such as a hip or wrist. Why does that happen? These people all suffer from thinning bones, which is known as osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is called the silent disease because most people do not even realize they have osteoporosis until a bone breaks.

Causes of Osteoporosis

Are you at risk for the silent disease? Besides getting older, the main cause is genetic. You develop thinning bones because your parents and your grandparents did. Your bones are living tissue, which means that new bone constantly replaces the existing bones in your body. If that doesn’t happen, if your body doesn’t replace enough new bone, you will likely develop osteoporosis. You can also develop other osteoporosis risk factors if you:

• Don’t produce enough calcium to form new bone
• Are a white or Asian woman
• Are small and thin
• Smoke and/or drink a lot of alcohol
• Take certain medications or are confined to bed

Osteoporosis Treatments

A simple x-ray is not very accurate to determine whether you have or are likely to have osteoporosis. The most common technique to measure thinning bones is a DEXA (dual x-ray absorptiometry) scan. It measures bone mineral density (BMD) with a low amount of exposure to radiation. The scan emits two x-ray beams, one with high energy, the other with low. Each beam is measured for the amount of x-rays that pass through them. Bone density is measured by the difference between the two beams. From that test, any risk of future fractures can be predicted. If the cause of osteoporosis is thought to be the result of another medical condition, blood and urine tests may be necessary.

Osteoporosis treatments may include certain medicines to help strengthen bones, such as:

• Bisphosphonates, the main drugs used to treat postmenopausal women with this condition
• Estrogen

A recommended way to keep your bones strong and healthy as you grow older is a daily diet that includes calcium and vitamin D. For those under the age of 50, 1,000 mg of calcium and 400-500 IU of vitamin D is recommended daily. For women 51-70, the recommended intakes are 1,200 mg of calcium and 400-800 IU pf vitamin D. For men 51-70, the intakes should be 1,000 mg of calcium and 400-800 IU vitamin D. For those over the age of 70, requirements are 1,000 mg calcium and 800 IU vitamin D.

Osteoporosis Exercises

Prevention is the best way to beat osteoporosis, and although it may not be possible to outwit heredity, there are ways to preserve bone density in older adults. It is recommended that if you are a smoker, now is the time to quit, and if you drink alcohol, this would be a good time to limit your intake. Besides watching your diet, one of the best ways to treat osteoporosis is to exercise daily. Osteoporosis exercises include:

• Activities that test your muscles, such as walking or jogging, dancing, or playing tennis
• Balance tests such as yoga
• Weight machines
• Rowing machines

You can’t change the factors, such as heredity, that put you at risk for osteoporosis. However, you can live an active and safe daily life that limits your chance of a fall and possible severe injury from this condition. Most of these safety tips are just common sense. For instance, check your home:

• Get rid of throw rugs; they are easy to trip over.
• Wear well-fitting shoes with heels, and that includes slippers.
• Always keep a light on in case you have to get up in the middle of the night.
• Have a safety grip bar installed in the bathroom … and use it.
• Don’t go outdoors alone if the weather is hazardous from rain or snow or ice.

Osteoporosis can be painful and debilitating, but with caution and common sense, it is also something you can live with.