A health risk of epidemic proportions
If you were to list the top health problems among older adults, what would you say? Heart attack? Stroke? Breast cancer? Would you be surprised to learn that fragility fractures — fractures that occur as the result of a fall from a standing height or less — are more common than the other three, combined?
Older adults in the U.S. incur over 2 million fragility fractures each year, more than heart attacks, strokes, and breast cancer combined. Credit: American Orthopaedic Association Own the Bone
According to the American Orthopaedic Association (AOA), older adults in the United States suffer about 2 million fragility fractures each year. Why so many? Largely because 44 million Americans have osteoporosis and thinning of the bones. This condition causes weakening of the bones and often leads to bone fractures.
As our population ages, incidence of both osteoporosis and fragility fractures are expected to go up, as well.
Living a healthy life with osteoporosis
Fortunately, we don’t have to sit idly by. We can take steps to reduce our risks — even if we have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis or suffered a fragility fracture.
“At our clinic, we look at bone health overall,” says Tammy Beckett, nurse practitioner at the Orthopaedic Associates of Michigan Bone Health Clinic. “We offer a comprehensive approach to fracture care. We assess multiple factors that may impact bone strength and quality.”
The OAM Bone Health Clinic was established to promote bone health, reduce the risk of fracture, accelerate healing and prevent re-fracture.
So, who is a typical patient at the clinic?
“We see the majority of OAM fracture patients and work with anyone who fractures frequently,” explains Beckett. “I also get a lot of referrals for patients who are concerned about their bone health — either because of their age or family history — and want to establish a good baseline to prevent osteoporosis. We teach ways to maintain healthy bones using good nutrition, exercise and if needed, medication.”
Turning bone fractures into “teachable moments”
Because fragility fractures are so common in older adults, they are a primary focus of the OAM Bone Health Clinic. While a bone fracture itself is never a good thing, good can come out of it. That is, if we use the fracture as a “teachable moment.”
What can we learn from a fragility fracture?
“Fragility fractures are the first sign of poor bone health,” says Beckett. This is very important because, according to the AOA, patients with fragility fractures are at an 86 percent higher risk of a second fracture. “If we learn a patient has weak bones that have led to a fracture — in other words, osteoporosis — we can take steps to help prevent further bone loss as well as future, and potentially more serious, injury.”
That is why the OAM Bone Health Clinic is a leading participant in the AOA Own the Bone program. Clifford B. Jones, MD, who staffs the OAM Bone Health Clinic along with James R. Stubbart, MD, also serves on the Scientific Steering Committee for Own the Bone.
This national data registry and benchmarking program was established by the AOA in 2009 and enables hospitals, medical centers, and physician practices like OAM to more effectively identify, evaluate and treat fragility fracture patients who are over 50 and at risk of osteoporosis. The goals of the program are to ensure that patients are aware of osteoporosis and are receiving the treatment and education they need to reduce their risk of future fractures and the impact osteoporosis has on their overall health.
“National studies have found that 80 percent of patients don’t receive proper osteoporosis care following a fracture,” Beckett says. “That’s why this program is so important.”
The OAM Bone Health Clinic was nominated this past year as an Own the Bone Star Performer, one of only a few dozen sites in the country — and the only site in Grand Rapids — to achieve this elite ranking.
“The program is all about better treatment and better outcomes for fragility fracture patients over 50,” explains Beckett. “Our ranking as a Star Performer in this nationally acclaimed program says that we’re taking very good care of this important patient population.”
We’re all at risk
While family history and certain medical conditions can play a role in osteoporosis, we are all at risk.
“Everyone needs to pay attention to the health of their bones because many factors can contribute to bone loss,” says Beckett, “Lack of exercise will result in weakness of the bones. When women lose estrogen in menopause or if men have low testosterone, they’re going to lose that protective impact on the bone and start to lose bone mass.”
But one of the biggest contributing factors is nutrition.
“Poor diet is absolutely a cause,” says Beckett. ”Without those good vitamins and minerals that the bones need, the bones won’t be as strong as they should be.”
Eating well for your bones
On the nutrition front, the first thing Beckett recommends is vitamin D. “Especially in Michigan. Vitamin D comes from the sun, and we just don’t get enough here. We recommend that adults take at least 2,000 units daily. Kids should take 1,000 units, since they build so much bone, especially as they get to middle school and high school. This is in addition to the milk they drink.”
Of course, calcium rich foods such as dairy products and dark green leafy vegetables are very important. Magnesium and vitamin K also help strengthen bones and can be found in many fruits and vegetables.
Beckett and the team at the OAM Bone Health Clinic have more practical advice about exercise and nutrition to keep bones healthy and prevent fractures. Watch for “5 Tips for Healthy Bones” in an upcoming OAM blog post, or contact the OAM Bone Health Clinic at (616) 459-7101.
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