Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease in the world, affecting one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50. Osteoporotic bones become thin and extremely porous, causing them to fracture (break) easily. Osteoporosis is usually only discovered and diagnosed when a fracture occurs.
This article explores the emotional, physical, and practical aspects of living and coping with osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis affects a person’s emotional quality of life and impacts their choices regarding daily activities. People with osteoporosis have to frequently consider the potential for fractures. They must also be mindful to avoid situations in which a fracture could potentially occur.
There are a few things that can help emotional well-being when navigating osteoporosis, including:
- Effective care: Managing osteoporosis effectively with helpful caregiver support appears to have a positive impact on mental health outcomes.
- Coping strategies: Active coping strategies, including acceptance of the disease and positive thinking, may be helpful.
- Support groups: Joining both educational and self-help support groups so people can connect with others who are also navigating the disease can be beneficial.
- Do what you love: Taking part in enjoyable activities or hobbies has been shown to help people cope with osteoporosis.
A Silent Disease
Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease because people often don’t know they have it until after a fracture. Because the symptoms are nearly nonexistent, many people with osteoporosis, especially those who are diagnosed without a fracture, may find it challenging to fully understand that they have the disease and make necessary adaptations.
Anxiety and Depression
Osteoporosis can impact a person’s psychological well-being. People with this condition have to reconsider activities and environments that include the potential of falling or fracturing a bone. This can affect a person’s quality of life and lead to depression or anxiety.
Refocusing on what a person is still able to do, engaging with others in support groups, and seeking help from a mental health professional may counter feelings of anxiety and depression.
Relationships, especially intimate relationships, may be impacted by a diagnosis of osteoporosis.
Fears of fractures during physical intimacy can cause couples to drift apart. Physical therapists and mental health professionals may be able to offer suggestions of alternative ways to continue physical intimacy and closeness.
Personal relationships, and the support and connection they provide, are important when navigating any chronic illness. Try to seek help rather than lose the intimate connection shared with a partner.
Because most osteoporosis-related fractures occur when a person falls, the most important physical concern is fall prevention. Once a person has been diagnosed with osteoporosis, preventing falls in their daily activities and environment is essential.
Smoking cigarettes is a significant risk factor for developing osteoporosis, as smoking decreases bone density, making it more susceptible to fracture. If you are a smoker who has received a diagnosis of osteoporosis, you should make attempts to quit smoking.
Exercise can be beneficial to those living with osteoporosis. However, not all exercises are advisable.
Running is strongly discouraged due to the risk of falling and breaking a bone. Also avoid front- or side-bending exercises (such as toe touches), lifting heavy objects, and exercises that involve pushing, pulling, or excessive bending, as these may compress the spine and lead to fractures.
However, research shows that weight-bearing and resistance exercises lead to increased bone mass when done with fracture prevention in mind.
Regular exercise at any age can also improve balance, which may reduce the risk of falling.
Exercise and Well-Being
Regular exercise is known to improve mental health, so exercising in a careful way may also improve symptoms of depression and anxiety that are associated with osteoporosis.
Dietary changes may benefit people with osteoporosis.
Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on plant-based foods, may offer some positive impacts on bone health. The typical Western diet, on the other hand, is known to cause a state of low-grade inflammation that may actually promote osteoporosis.
Several supplements may help in maintaining healthy bones. Discuss the following options with your healthcare provider:
- Calcium and vitamin D: Calcium or vitamin D alone are not considered a treatment for osteoporosis, but supplementation with both may have some protective benefits and may reduce the risk of fracture.
- Magnesium: Magnesium deficiency is rare. However, some older adults may not be able to absorb enough magnesium to maintain healthy bones. In a 2017 study, dietary magnesium intake at or above the recommended daily allowance was associated with a 27% decrease in risk of fractures in women with osteoporosis.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines, are plentiful in lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have explored the impact of fatty acids on bone health and mental stress, and some suggest a beneficial effect. However, the results are not conclusive, and further research is needed.
Living with osteoporosis can be easier for people with strong social connections and networks. It may be helpful to engage with others in support groups, both in person or online, to share stories and strategies with others who are also navigating the disease.
Check with your healthcare provider, local hospital, or national and international foundations for osteoporosis that can offer additional support.
People with osteoporosis may need accommodations in the workplace, as well as assistance with caregiving and driving during times of healing from a fracture. It may be especially important to obtain help or hire service providers for tasks in and around the home that put a person at risk of falling or fracture injuries.
Working with Osteoporosis
If you are still working or desire to work, it may be helpful to ask your employer about accommodations for osteoporosis. This may include more comfortable seating arrangements or ways to prevent potential falls.
Speak with your healthcare provider about workplace accommodations or obtaining a physical therapy referral that can enable you to continue working. When possible, it is helpful to stay active and feel productive with osteoporosis.
With a diagnosis of osteoporosis, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Speak with your healthcare professional, a social worker, or attorney who specializes in Social Security benefits to determine your eligibility.
A Word From Verywell
Being diagnosed with osteoporosis may be overwhelming, especially when it requires changes to your lifestyle. With support, it’s very possible to maintain a strong quality of life while still staying safe and protecting yourself against future falls or fractures. Work with your healthcare provider and take advantage of the resources in your community to live well with osteoporosis.