Osteoporosis and Adults With Disabilities

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become thin and weak, often resulting in fractures (broken bones). The most common breaks are in the hip, spine, or wrist. Osteoporosis is called a “silent disease” because many people do not even know they have thin bones until one breaks.

Why is this important to me?

Due to recent advances in medicine and health care, people with disabilities often live longer. Now, people with disabilities face the same chronic conditions as the rest of the aging population, but often at an earlier age.

Who is at risk for osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis can happen to anyone, but it is much more common in older than younger adults. The disease most commonly affects women over 60 years of age, who are White or Asian. This does not mean that others are not at risk for osteoporosis. Men and other ethnic populations get osteoporosis too; they are just at a slightly lower risk. Your family history can contribute to your risk for osteoporosis especially if you have parents who have had osteoporosis (broken bones of the hip, wrist, or spine without major trauma, experienced height loss of more than 1-1/2 inches, or have stooped posture). Individuals with disabilities are at a higher risk for bone loss and fractures for a number of reasons.

Why are people with disabilities at higher risk?

  • If your physical activity is limited, you are less likely to build and maintain bone mass through muscle-strengthening and weight-bearing activities.
  • Some medications that are necessary for people with disabilities may contribute to bone loss. These medications include steroid medications (such as prednisone or cortisone taken for more than 3 months) and certain medications used to treat seizure disorders or depression. Examples include: phenytoin (brand name: Dilantin), valproic acid (brand name: Depakote) etc. If you are taking a medication that may cause bone loss, discuss this with your healthcare provider. Do not stop or change the way you take any medication without medical advice.

How can I protect my bone health?

Choosing the following bone-healthy habits will help you promote stronger bones:

Eat a variety of healthy (nutrient-rich) foods. Make half your plate vegetables and fruit, add lean protein, include whole grains, select heart-healthy fats, and remember to include a calcium-rich food or drink at each meal. For more information about healthy food choices, go to www.choosemyplate.gov

Reach and maintain a healthy weight. Eat the amount of calories and protein you need. The amount that you need will depend on your height, weight, age, physical activity, and medical condition

Get the calcium you need. It is recommended that adults consume 1000 to 1200 milligrams (mg) of calcium each day. It is best to get calcium from the foods you eat. It is important to only eat the calcium rich foods you tolerate and/or those that are permitted according to your healthcare provider, if you are on a special diet. Foods rich in calcium such as low fat dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese), dark green leafy vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens), canned fish (sardines, salmon) eaten with bones, or calcium-fortified (with calcium added) foods. The body uses calcium best when it is spaced through the day. Try to eat a calcium rich food at each meal or snack. If you think that you are not getting the recommended amount of calcium in the foods you eat, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider to find out if a calcium supplement is right for you. Calcium supplements should not be taken without the advice of your healthcare provider. Too much calcium taken on a routine basis, particularly from supplements, may be harmful.

Get the recommended amount of vitamin D. It is important to only eat the vitamin D rich foods you tolerate and/or those that are permitted according to your healthcare provider, if you are on a special diet. There are only a few good natural sources of vitamin D including fatty fish such as catfish, eel, mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna and shiitake mushrooms. Small amounts of vitamin D are added to all cow’s milk, some types of beverages (almond, coconut, rice, or soy beverages and orange juice), yogurt, cheese, and nutrition bars. Adults 50 years of age and above should consume 800-1000 IU or 20-25mcg daily. Your healthcare provider may recommend more vitamin D than above stated amounts based on your individual needs.

Be physically active every day to include weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening activities, to the extent of your abilities.

Don’t smoke and quit if you do smoke. Call 1-800-NYQUITS for information about how to quit.

Limit alcohol. Before drinking alcohol, it is important to speak to your healthcare provider about possible interactions with your medication or your medical condition. Too much alcohol can be harmful for your bones and your overall health.

Take action to prevent falls. Most broken bones occur as a result of a fall that can be prevented. Some actions to prevent falls at home include using nightlights, removing or securing scatter rugs, and getting rid of clutter.

How can I get more information about promoting healthy bones?

For more tips on promoting stronger bones, talk with your healthcare provider. You may also contact the NYSOPEP Statewide Osteoporosis Resource Center at (845) 786-4772. For more information about disabilities and health, click on New York State Department of Health.