Osteoporosis – a Silent Insidious Disease that Sneaks up on You

by Barbara Lewis

My mother and I were always the same height; five foot four and half inches, not tall of course, but sort of average height. I thought it was amazing we were the same height. My daughter is much taller; she is about five foot ten, and got her height from my dad and her father. I had the great fortune to know and be around my great grandmother who was a small English woman of five feet tall with perfectly erect posture for the 96 years of her life.

She commanded a room with her presence and demeanor. One felt her anger and wrath by her sharp tongue and pole straight spine. I believe it was when she was 92 that she fell and broke her hip. We found out then that she had osteoporosis and it is a circular argument as to whether the hip broke from the fall or she fell because the hip broke. We will never know and as with most accidents of this kind it is quite often hard to tell. Osteoporosis was in our genes and something all the women on my mom’s side of the family needed to be aware of.

I was peripherally aware of it but I was a runner in the past before my knees gave out on me and I have always lifted weights, so exercise wise I felt I had nothing to worry about and had never even asked my doctor about it. When I started seeing a GP in Bakersfield, California it was her standard practice to test your bone density, which I had never done before but I was over 45 so I figured it was a good idea. Around this time I noticed that when I stood beside my mother she seemed shorter than me. She would have been 67 at the time. She was really working on her fitness and was probably the fittest she had been in her life. She could run, which she had never done before, she walked for miles.

She had always been one of the fastest walkers I knew. I learned my shopping skills from her and my friends and kids hated to go shopping with me because I would ask or sometimes demand that they keep up with me and I could move just like she did. I asked her about her height and she passed it off that I was just imagining things. This went on for a few years. I got increasingly worried however because I was sure she was shrinking.

I finally demanded that we measure our height and made her admit that she was several inches shorter than me at which time I also asked that she go see someone about it. Unfortunately, she found out that she does have Osteoporosis and believes it is because of a drug trial that she took as part of a study that she suffers from the disease rather than genetics. In any case, it doesn’t matter, she takes medication to help stop it in its tracks. Supposedly there is no pain with osteoporosis unless you break a bone but I know what I have seen and I am not so sure.

My mother’s shoulders have rounded and I will often remind her to stand up straight. This usually happens when she is concentrating on other things. I have to wonder if it is because her spine is weaker and takes more muscle concentration to stand tall. In the past she always had very good posture and was very aware of maintaining good posture. She has pain through out her arms and legs, unexplained, which makes you wonder if the bone weakening could have anything to do with it. Her gate because of the pain has slowed considerably.

Osteoporosis means porous bone. So one’s bone density lacks the density it should and depending on the severity the bone becomes brittle and breakable. North Americans have a good diet and shouldn’t suffer from lack of good bone density due to nutrient deficiency but it is possible especially with all the processed foods we eat. Osteoporosis should not be deadly but it can be as it can be silent, painless and insidious until something significant happens like a spine breaks which could be life threatening. As we get older it is important to check our bone density and to participate in weight bearing exercise to maintain and improve our bone density so we don’t run the risk of osteoporosis.

Although I can’t run anymore because my knees don’t allow me, I do walk and play tennis, both weight bearing exercises. There is a great deal of information on the Internet and of course, from your health practitioner on osteoporosis. Just because it isn’t something that is readily apparent does not mean that it should be ignored because the sooner it is caught it can be treated and in some cases possibly even reversed but if left too long osteoporosis can kill and at the very least maim. It is a real concern for all of us getting older and easy to check with a bone density test.

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