Falls that lead to broken bones are alarmingly common. Osteoporosis Canada estimates that one in three women and one in five men will experience a fragility fracture in their lifetime. Within one year of initially fracturing, 20 percent of patients who have broken a bone in their spine will break another one. 

The annual cost of treating hip fractures alone, including direct costs and long-term care, totals $3.9 billion.

The numbers highlight a grim reality, but also point to chronic conditions, like osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, that especially afflict people from the age of 50.

Chronic conditions

“The problem with osteoporosis is that the porous areas, or holes, within the bone become bigger, which in turn means the bone connecting each of the holes becomes thinner. That creates fragile bone density that can happen to an entire bone,” explains Dr. Famida Jiwa, President and CEO of Osteoporosis Canada. 

“Typically, when you fall from a standing height, your body should be able to withstand that fall without breaking a bone. If you do break one, it’s called a fragility fracture because the underlying cause is fragile bone, not the fall itself.”

Dr. Jiwa cites these types of fractures as making up 80 percent of all broken bones after the age of 50. Osteoporosis also has no pain or symptoms, unlike arthritis, so a person’s bone density can decrease without one’s knowing that it’s happening until a broken bone occurs. 

Fractures from osteoporosis are more common than  heart attack, stroke, and breast cancer combined, she says. 

Not a normal part of aging

“Many people in the public and health-care profession think osteoporosis is a normal part of aging, which is very concerning,” she says. “You have 80 percent of people who have fractured and not been put on treatment, which speaks to both the public and health-care provider.”

Dr. Geoffrey Johnston, Chair and President of the Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation, notes that a proper diet, balance, and core strength play key roles in mitigating the effects of osteoosteoporosis. 

While osteoporosis substantially increases the likelihood of suffering a broken bone from a fall, Johnston reasons that bones respond to activity, and inactivity in older age makes bones more brittle and less capable of withstanding the impact of falls.  

As crippling as it  may be, preemptive moves can be made to stem the effects or mitigate them significantly. For osteoporosis, vitamin D and calcium are two important nutrients that are crucial for strong bones, while weight bearing, strength and balance exercise, as well as regular bone density check-ups from 50 and up also help the cause, says Johnston.

“The vitamin D that we get from the sun in Canada is actually quite little, so routine daily supplementation for all adults is appropriate, along with maintaining a proper calcium intake from your diet, recognizing that too much is not good, and too little is not good,” he says. “Core strength and balance activities that are appropriate to the individual, also help keep the body active. You have to be fit to grow old, and we need to reinforce that idea more than we have.”