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Normal bone, in a young adult, is a strong substance. It has a built in safety margin, being able to absorb about twenty times the normal physiological stresses before it is likely to break. However, for a variety of reasons, bone gradually loses substance as people get older.

The terms 'osteopaenia' and 'osteoporosis' essentially mean that the bones affected by this condition contain a quantitative lack of bone material within them. Because of this lack of substance the strength of the affected bone is substantially reduced. The safety margin in the strength of bone in the elderly person may have been reduced to less than five times normal physiological stresses. This difference in the relative strength of bone in the young and in the elderly is reflected in the different patterns of fractures between these two groups. The young person tends to fracture the middle of their bones while the elderly people tend to sustain fractures at the ends of their bones.

There are two factors of major significance with relation to osteoporotic fractures:


Elderly people tend to suffer falls. This, combined with the fact that their bone may be weak, has lead to the number of osteoporosis related fractures having greatly increased over the last few years; to the extent that their numbers have been described as having reached 'epidemic proportions'. Many of these fractures are significant injuries, requiring hospitalisation and often surgical correction. The cost to society of treating these injuries is becoming astronomical.

Osteopaenia in the elderly takes a long time to develop. The best way to treat it is by prevention; but in this there is a problem as it is impossible to accurately forecast those who will develop the condition. For this reason all individuals, particularly if there is a family history of the condition, are extolled to take as many safeguards as possible.

Where osteoporosis has been shown to be present, various treatments can be administered.

Further information on osteoporosis can be obtained from the National Osteoporosis Society.