Taken from the July/August 2015 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter
We are inundated with advertisements for miracle drugs claiming to fix all of our health problems, but offered little information about effective prevention measures to protect our health. This is a serious problem when it comes to falling — a major public health problem that affects one in three older adults.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for adults over age 65, as well as the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).1 Falls often cause breaks and/or fractures, particularly among older adults whose bones are weaker and less dense than younger people’s. In 2013, the direct medical cost of falls was estimated at around $34 billion, and falls also have enormous non-medical costs to both individuals and communities as well.2
Seeing a lucrative market, pharmaceutical companies have, for many years, misleadingly pushed bisphosphonates as a bone fracture prevention measure for older women. While bisphosphonates can be an effective treatment for women with osteoporosis, the Network advises against their use as a preventive measure, given their risk of complications and small benefit that’s speculative, at best.
Further, while drug makers tout the risks of “osteopenia,” it’s important to recognize that this is yet another invented disease. Osteopenia simply means your bone mineral density is below the statistical average for young women. Taking bisphosphonates to try to prevent osteoporosis may actually increase your risk of bone fracture later on!3,4 In fact, in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration added a warning about the increased risk of thigh bone fractures associated with long-term use of bisphosphonates and acknowledged that the ‘optimal duration of use’ has yet to be determined.
Osteoporosis and bone fractures are serious public health concerns that require effective prevention and treatment measures, not harmful speculative drugs.
Being proactive about improving or maintaining your bone health is important, but not all preventive measures need to or should be approached biomedically to be effective. The best way to prevent breaks and fractures is to prevent the fall in the first place. Incorporating simple behavioral changes can drastically reduce the risk of experiencing a fall and resulting breakage or fracture. And, preventing falls doesn’t have to be costly or time-consuming to be effective either. In fact, you can greatly reduce your risk of falling by exercising regularly, checking your vision, reviewing your medications with your prescriber, and removing potential trip hazards from your home.
Being physically active has many advantages for health, including reducing the risk of falling and bone fractures. Exercises like Tai Chi and yoga, which help improve balance, and strength training like weight lifting, can significantly reduce the chance of suffering a fall. Exercising regularly and performing exercises to maintain and develop strength can also help prevent the fear of falling. After suffering a fall, many people develop a further fear of falling, which can lead to a decrease in physical activity, which may, in turn, actually increase the risk of falling! Maintaining a regular exercise regimen is a great way to reduce your risk of falling.
Another risk factor for falling is poor vision. Limited vision and incorrect prescriptions can impair your ability to judge distances or see potential hazards — both of which may increase the risk of falling. That’s why it is so important to have your vision checked regularly by an optometrist. Scheduling and attending an annual checkup with your optometrist is a great way to ensure that your vision is not placing you at risk for falling.
Another critical measure for preventing falls is to work with your doctor to regularly check your prescription medication and adjust dosing or specific medicines, as needed. Some medicines (even those you’ve taken for years) may metabolize or react differently as you age. The same dose may cause dizziness or lethargy now, even though you did not experience these symptoms ten years ago when you started the drug. Speaking with your doctor about any new side effects or changes you experience can go a long way to helping prevent falls.
One last simple and effective fall prevention tactic is to improve your home’s safety by removing any potential trip hazards. This may seem like common sense, but a lot of falls result from things like a loose rug or dark room. Making your home safer doesn’t need to be expensive or time-consuming! Placing non-slip mats in the bathtub, replacing burned-out light bulbs, wearing shoes inside the house, removing items from your pathway, and eliminating loose rugs are all great ways to reduce your risk of falling.
The next time you hear an advertisement for drugs to help prevent bone fractures, remember to be skeptical. There are plenty of simple and effective measures you can take to stay healthy that don’t involve risky and ineffective medications. Your bones will thank you!
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1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website. Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States: Fact Sheet. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014. Retrieved April 1 2015 from http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website. Falls Among Older Adults: An Overview. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015. Retrieved March 29 2015 from http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html.
3. National Women’s Health Network Website. Osteoporosis. Washington, DC: National Women’s Health Network, 2012. Retrieved April 2 2015 from https://nwhn.org/osteoporosis.
4. Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation Website. Bone Health/ Prevention and Treatment. Santa Monica, CA: Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. http://dslrf.org/mwh/content.asp?L2=2&L3=3&L4=3&SID=266