Men Underestimate Their Risk of Osteoporosis

June 12 – 18, 2017, is National Men's Health Week, a great time to remind dads, husbands, sons and the other men in our lives to be screened for this potentially debilitating condition.

Man talking with his doctor

At his "Welcome to Medicare" physical, Ben was surprised when Dr. Waldrop asked him about a family history of osteoporosis. Ben thought, "That’s a woman's disease, isn't it?" He'd worked in construction much of his life, so he thought his bones were pretty strong. But when Ben reported that his mom had broken a hip and his sister was taking medication for osteoporosis, Dr. Waldrop recommended a bone mineral density scan.

Osteoporosis is a loss of bone density that can occur as we age. It leads to millions of broken bones each year and is a major cause of fractures, back pain, spinal problems and loss of independence. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) estimates that more than 44 million Americans are affected by osteoporosis, and the number will grow along with the aging of our population.

Ben is not alone in thinking that osteoporosis is mostly a concern of women. This is a common misconception, but one that could be deadly. It's true that more women than men will develop osteoporosis, and more women than men will suffer a fracture due to weak, brittle bones. But men who suffer an osteoporosis-related broken bone are at higher risk of serious complications. And at the March 2017 annual meeting of the AAOS, University of California, San Francisco professor Dr. Alan Zhang reported, "Although women are more likely to sustain an initial, osteoporosis-related fragility fracture, men have similar rates of incurring a subsequent fracture and are at greater risk for mortality after these injuries."

Dr. Mary Ruppe, an endocrinologist for the Houston Methodist medical system, concurs. "Each year, approximately 80,000 men will suffer a hip fracture, and studies have shown they have a higher mortality rate after a hip fracture than women of the same age," she said. "Such data underscores the importance of routine osteoporosis screening for men." But, says Dr. Ruppe, "Women have a screening safety net. Between their primary care physician and OB-GYN, women will begin bone density screenings at the appropriate age. Men are less likely to have routine primary care checkups and don't receive preventative care similar to what is provided for women."

Osteoporosis is diagnosed with a bone mineral density test—a painless procedure similar to getting an x-ray. Men should discuss their risk factors with their doctor to help decide the age at which screening should begin. For men, risk factors include age, a family history of the disease, low vitamin D, low testosterone, taking certain medications such as steroids, a history of fractures, and lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol abuse, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

Early diagnosis can help men take advantage of treatment, which includes medications to slow the loss of bone, an exercise program, and a recommended diet.

Recovering From a Fracture

If a male loved one suffers a fracture of the hip or spine, or other serious broken bone, effective treatment and good care during the recovery process can reduce the risk of serious complications, and help him manage his osteoporosis treatment.

Home care can be a great help once a male patient is discharged to his home or senior living community. Helping a husband or father with personal care and mobility can be challenging, especially if he is a large man! Spouses may have health problems of their own, and adult children may be unable to provide the support a man needs for the best outcome. Consider hiring in-home care during this time, to promote the best possible recovery, to help your loved one avoid another fracture, and to help manage his osteoporosis going forward. A professional in-home caregiver can:

Man walking with assistance of professional caregiver

Provide transportation. Recovery from a fracture may require numerous appointments with several doctors and rehabilitation specialists, at a time when your dad or spouse probably won't be able to drive. He also may be dealing with other health conditions, each with its own regimen of appointments. The caregiver can ensure that he gets to these appointments, and can help him safely get in and out of the car.

Help with medication management. A variety of medications may be prescribed as your loved one's fracture heals, including drugs to control pain and to slow the loss of bone. It's important that he take these medications as prescribed. The caregiver can provide medication reminders, pick up his prescriptions, and report any side effects from medications.

Fall-proof the house. One of the greatest dangers when a man has significant bone loss is that he will suffer a fall—and most fall injuries happen right in a person's home. The caregiver can remove clutter and other hazards, while keeping the home clean and hygienic. The caregiver also can help your loved one make home safety adaptations.

Prepare meals. Nutritious food is important both for healing and for slowing the progression of osteoporosis. Your loved one's healthcare provider may recommend a diet that is rich in bone-healthy nutrients, especially dairy products, certain vegetables and canned fish, which are rich in calcium. The caregiver can go to the grocery store, and prepare meals and snacks that meet the healthcare provider's recommendations.

Provide supervision and encouragement for exercise. An appropriate program of weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises is one of the best ways to protect our bones. Exercise can slow bone loss; many researchers believe it can even build bone. If your loved one is recovering from a fracture, home exercises may be recommended. Men who have never tried weight lifting might want to start now, with the doctor's approval. With the caregiver at hand, your loved one will feel more confident engaging in any prescribed activity program.

Preserve your loved one's dignity. After a fracture, it may be challenging to perform self-care activities such as bathing, dressing, grooming and using the toilet. Many male clients find it more emotionally comfortable to have a professional assist with those tasks, rather than relying on their spouse or adult children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers more information about National Men’s Health Week.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about your risk of osteoporosis, or about your treatment plan if you've been diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.