Maintaining Healthy Bones in Older Adults

If you are a senior adult with type 2 diabetes, you may be at increased risk for bone fractures.

As part of a three-year study of 1,000 people by Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research in Boston, researchers recently found that older adults with diabetes had weakness in their bones that traditional bone density testing failed to uncover. The findings revealed that skeletal problems due to diabetes may play a role in high fracture risk for seniors.

Researchers noted that the problem will continue to increase as the population ages and the diabetes epidemic grows. About half of women and 25 percent of men will experience a fracture during their lifetimes; women can lose as much as 20 percent of their bone mass just in the five years following menopause.

Increased Risk from Type 2 Diabetes

Fractures among individuals with osteoporosis are a major health concern for older adults. In a previous study, researchers found that women between the ages of 65 and 69 who break a hip have a five-fold greater chance of death over the next year compared to women of the same age who do not experience hip fractures. The greatest risk of death among study participants happened within three months after fractures, leading researchers to conclude that the fractures played significant roles in the deaths.

As the new research found, seniors with diabetes also are at greater risk of bone fractures even if their bone density is normal or higher than average. In fact, the risk of hip fracture among seniors with diabetes may be up to 50-percent higher.

Improving Bone Health

Fortunately, seniors with osteoporosis and/or diabetes can take steps to maintain or build bone strength and reduce the risk of fractures.

Getting the right nutrients is critical, medical authorities say; eating an overall healthy diet can significantly lower the chances of developing bone loss and osteoporosis. Calcium serves as an important building block for bones, while vitamin D helps the body properly process the needed calcium.

In addition, strength training can help you or your senior loved one boost bone health, research has found. Regularly engaging in resistance exercises may increase blood levels for CTX, which serves as a marker for bone formation. Experts say that while aerobic activities like walking are beneficial for your bones, the best exercises for stimulating bone growth use additional weight. Consider working with a trainer to design a personalized program.

If you or your family member have diabetes, work closely with your doctor to manage the condition to avoid low blood sugar — which can contribute to falls — and to address related health problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

As the recent research shows, seniors with diabetes have higher risk of developing weakened bones and suffering bone fractures. That same research may result in new methods for treatment and prevention. Meanwhile, you can take important steps to protect your bone health by eating a healthy diet, engaging in strength training, and working closely with your doctor.

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