Osteoporosis is a major health issue in Australia and around the world, although 70 per cent of Aussie women aged between 55 and 64 haven’t talked to their doctor about it. Just 22 per cent of women consider it a risk, despite one in three women around the world over the age of 50 experiencing a fracture caused by osteoporosis.
Simply put, osteoporosis is a health condition that weakens the bones, making them more fragile and more likely to break. The condition typically develops slowly over time and is usually only diagnosed when a fall or impact causes a fracture. These fractures generally occur in the wrists, hips or spinal bones, but can also appear in the arms, pelvis, ribs and other parts of the body.
One person who knows all about the impacts of osteoporosis is 58-year-old Jane Scoble. Speaking to Starts at 60, the Melbourne grandmother explained that she once lived an active and healthy lifestyle, but had her life turned upside down when she took a nasty fall just before her 50th birthday. She’d gone back to university to study nursing but the fall and lengthy recovery period meant she couldn’t complete her studies.
“I went back to uni and it was about halfway through the year I fell and fractured my shoulder very badly,” she explained. “I wasn’t diagnosed at that time but the surgeon said my bones were very soft and brittle and that I had such a bad fall. My children were grown up by then. I planned on going travelling. None of that happened that year.”
Jane followed a healthy diet of calcium-rich foods and said there was nothing to suggest she had osteoporosis. When doctors attempted to put her shoulder back together again, they had a difficult time and were forced to use lots of pins and screws. She was initially prescribed medication that helps build bone, although after not healing for 10 weeks, she was taken off it.
Jane also injured her left foot, although this time a fall or injury wasn’t the cause of her stress fracture. It took health professionals a long time to work out what had gone wrong and after wearing a boot for two months and a CT scan, a pin was put in to help Jane recover.
Doctors were still baffled and it took some time before they found a treatment of injections every six months to help manage her osteoporosis.
“The injections will make sure my bone density doesn’t go backwards,” Jane explained. “Once it gets bad, it just maintains it. It improves it a bit, it’s never going to be brilliant.”
She also takes extra vitamin D and extra calcium supplements, while a yearly blood test checks her bone density levels haven’t continued to dip. She also has to eat healthy foods and maintain a good weight to help manage her condition.
In addition to having to drop out of university and putting her holiday plans on hold, there are many other physical and emotional limitations osteoporosis has put on Jane’s life. She’s now banned from horse riding and skiing, which were two of her biggest passions in life. She can’t work full-time because of her many operations, and walking is as active as she can get now.
“I’ve had to reassess how I look at stuff and keep trying something different and I spend a lot of my time helping my friends out now instead of going to work,” she said. “I spend time with my granddaughter.”
Following her fractures, Jane relied on her family to help her with daily tasks. She couldn’t drive for nine months and she’s had to move into a single-storey house to avoid stairs. She also has to be careful not to leave things out at home and to remove trip hazards to prevent falls and make her life as easy as possible. She also did a rehab course and an occupational therapist helped her with tips, including how to hold handle her granddaughter.
“There’s a lot of help out there, it’s just about asking the right questions and getting as much information as you can because everyone is going to be different,” Jane said.
GPs will generally be the best place to start as they can refer patients to the right specialists and people. They will be able to help with nutritionists and dieticians, as well as assisting with other help and resources.
Jane has shared her story as part of a new online narrative called Osteoporosis XPlained. The website, which can be accessed here, raises awareness about the disease in easy-to-understand language.