Falls and Older Adults

Maintaining Bone Health

Why Bone Health Is Important

Falls are a common reason for trips to the emergency room and for hospital stays among older adults. Many of these hospital visits are for fall-related fractures. You can help prevent fractures by maintaining the strength of your bones.

Having healthy bones won't prevent a fall. If you fall, though, having healthy bones can prevent hip or other fractures that may lead to a hospital or nursing home stay, disability, or even death.

Osteoporosis makes bones thin and more likely to break. It is a major reason for fractures in women past menopause. It also affects older men. If bones are fragile, even a minor fall can cause fractures.

Getting Enough Calcium

At any age, you can take steps to keep your bones strong. Be sure to consume adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Women over age 50 should consume 1,200 mg of calcium daily. Men between the ages of 51 and 70 should consume 1,000 mg of calcium a day, and men over 70 should consume 1,200 mg per day. This can be done by eating calcium-rich foods and taking calcium supplements.

Good dietary sources of calcium include

  • dairy products such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • orange juice, cereals, and other foods fortified with calcium
  • dark green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collard greens, and bok choy
  • sardines, salmon with bones, soybeans, tofu, and nuts such as almonds.

Getting Enough Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Exposure to sunlight causes your body to make vitamin D. Many older people don't get enough vitamin D this way, though. Eating foods with vitamin D and taking supplements can help.

As you grow older, your need for vitamin D increases. People ages 51 to 70 should consume at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. People over age 70 should consume at least 800 IUs daily.

Herring, sardines, salmon, tuna, liver, eggs, and fortified milk and foods are good sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D supplements may also be needed. Talk with your doctor about how much vitamin D you need. Taking too much may be harmful.

Other Ways to Maintain Bone Health

  • Physical Activity. Physical activity is another way to keep your bones strong. Try to get a total of at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Find time for activities like walking, dancing, stair climbing, gardening, and weight-lifting.
  • Bone Density Test. Talk with your doctor about having a bone density test. This safe, painless test assesses your bone health and risk of future fractures. Medicare and many private insurers cover this test for eligible people. Women over age 65 and all men over 70 should have a bone density test.
  • Medications. Your doctor can also advise you about whether you should consider taking prescription medications to improve bone health. These medications can slow bone loss, improve bone density, and lessen the risk of fractures.

Quitting Smoking, Limiting Alcohol

Other ways to maintain bone health include quitting smoking and limiting alcohol use. Smoking and heavy alcohol use can decrease bone mass and increase the chance of fractures. Also, maintain a healthy weight. Being underweight increases the risk of bone loss and broken bones.

You're never too old to improve your bone health. A diet that includes enough calcium and vitamin D, and physical activity can help prevent bone loss and fractures. You can also have your bone density tested and ask your doctor about supplements or other medicines to strengthen your bones if needed.