| Florentine Dame |
ESSEN, Germany (dpa) – A group of women – and one man – have gathered together to take part in a special gymnastics course for senior citizens. Their bones have become so porous with age that even the slightest fall can lead to a fracture. Everyone in the group has osteoporosis and many have already broken bones.
Renate Wenzel only discovered she had the disease when back pain became so intense seven years ago that she had to visit a doctor. “I was stunned when he told me that I had osteoporosis,” she recalls. “I always exercised but now I couldn’t even walk. I thought my life was over.”
Wenzel’s experience is a common story for people with osteoporosis.
Millions of people around the world have osteoporosis. The risk of developing the disease increases with age. Studies indicate that about half of all women and a fifth of men have low bone density.
They are at risk of fracturing their vertebrae or femurs. “From the age of 70 osteoporosis becomes very common,” says Professor Johannes Pfeilschifter.
He has spent 10 years coordinating the development of guidelines in Germany on diagnosing and treating osteoporosis.
There is no clear explanation as to why mainly elderly women are affected by osteoporosis. “But age brings a range of factors that can lead to the development of the condition,” says Pfeilschifter.
Physicians think lack of oestrogen, or testosterone, can cause bone mass to decrease. The two hormones are part of a complex relationship between minerals and other hormones that are responsible for bone health. When their levels fall with age, the production of new bone slows down.
“The decline in muscle strength with age also reduces bone density,” says Pfeilschifter.
In societies with ageing populations osteoporosis will become an ever greater challenge. The International Osteoporosis Foundation predicts the number of cases of bone fractures due to osteoporosis will climb by a third between 2010 and 2025. That will have a dramatic effect on health systems and families.
“A bone fracture for an elderly person causes enormous uncertainty. For many it means the end of self sufficiency,” says Professor Heide Siggelkow, from the German osteoporosis umbrella organisation Dachverband Osteologie (DVO). A broken bone can turn even simple every day events like going shopping into a huge challenge.
A fourth of osteoporosis patients need care and more seriously a fifth of all cases of severe hip fractures are fatal, according to the DVO.
Siggelkow says doctors need to be more aware about the condition.
According to her experience many physicians do not diagnose osteoporosis even after a patient experiences multiple fractures.
Without a diagnosis, drug therapy treatment cannot begin. Most fractures of the femur, for example, can be avoided with the application of basic medicines, according to Siggelkow.
“We also need to provide better care for patients after they break a bone,” says Siggelkow. “Surgeons are quite capable of repairing a broken hip. But we need to put more focus on the overall picture and making sure the patient as a whole is working again.”
Self-help groups such as the one Wenzel visits can help. Exercise stimulates bone growth, can improve coordination and reduce the chance of another fall – something that Wenzel can attest to: “I feel fit again,” she says.