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Bone health in seniors

In seniors, a bone-healthy diet is an essential ingredient in helping to slow the rate of bone thinning and preserve muscle function. This in turns helps reduce the risk of falls and fractures.

Malnutrition is common among the elderly for a number of reasons. Seniors may have reduced appetite or be less inclined to cook balanced meals. Vitamin D levels may be lower because of less frequent exposure to sunlight, especially in seniors who are housebound. The skin’s capacity to synthesize vitamin D also decreases, as does the kidney’s capacity to convert vitamin D to its active form. In addition, with age, the body is less able to absorb and retain calcium.

More calcium, protein and vitamin D needed

In addition to higher calcium intake, seniors need more dietary protein and vitamin D than the young. Both these nutrients help prevent muscle wasting (known as sarcopenia) and thereby help lower the risk of falls and fractures. Higher dietary intake of protein in older people who have been hospitalized with hip fracture has been shown to improve bone density, reduce the risk of complications and reduce rehabilitation time.

Daily dietary recommendations for seniors

Age

Gender

Calcium RDA

Vitamin D RDA

Protein RDA*

51-70 years

female

1200 mg

600 IU

46 g

male

1000 mg

600 IU

56 g

>70 years

female

1200 mg

800 IU

46 g

male

1200 mg

800 IU

56 g

Based on IOM recommendations, RDA: Recommended Dietary Allowances,
*According to IOF, a moderate increase in protein intake from 0.8 to 1.0–1.2 g/kg per day is considered optimal for skeletal muscle health in older adults

The International Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that seniors aged 60 years and over take a Vitamin D supplement at a dose of 800–1000 IU/day. Vitamin D supplementation at these levels has been shown to reduce the risk of falls and fractures by about 20%.

Exercise enhances the benefits of bone-healthy nutrition

As at all stages of life, exercise is essential for bone health in seniors too. At this age, muscle strengthening exercises, suitable to individual needs and abilities, will help improve coordination and balance. This in turn helps to maintain mobility and reduce the risk of falls and fractures.

Treatment for those at high risk

Although bone-healthy nutrition is important, drug therapies are critical for fracture prevention in people at high risk, including those who have already experienced a first fracture. Today, there are many proven and effective treatments which have been shown to reduce the risk of osteoporotic fracture by between 30–50%.

If you’re over aged 50 years and have broken a bone, or have other risk factors for osteoporosis ask your doctor for a clinical assessment.

Controlling osteoporosis risk factors and complying with treatment regimens, where prescribed, can ensure people live mobile, independent, fracture-free lives for longer.

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