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Not just your mother's disease

Our bones are like a bank account, accepting more deposits than withdrawals throughout our youth and enabling the skeleton to grow in both size and density until reaching its maximum frame around age 30. From then on, the bank balance begins a slow decline as withdrawals start to exceed deposits of new bone.

Although women, with their smaller, slighter skeletons and post-menopause decline in bone-protecting estrogen, are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis, men are not immune to the effects of the bone-thinning disease.

In fact, although men tend to develop osteoporosis later than women do, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, more than 2 million men in this country have osteoporosis and another 3 million are at risk for developing the disease. Nearly half of all people over age 75 are affected by osteoporosis.

Community Hospital has bone-density screening available for men and women at the Breast Care Center in Monterey and the Community Imaging Center in Ryan Ranch.

"It is important to clarify that, although their incidence is lower, osteoporosis is something that can and does happen to men," says Community Hospital occupational therapist Marta Lynch. "Because men start out with greater bone density, and because they produce testosterone well into their 70s or 80s, which helps keep their bones strong, men tend to think they are not at risk. But they are."

Nearly 250,000 osteoporosis-related hip fractures occur each year in this country, and a quarter of them happen to men. Among these individuals, half will need assistance with daily living activities and half of those will need to enter a long-term care facility. Even more serious is the 10 percent to 25 percent of hip-fracture victims who will die soon afterward, usually from complications such as pneumonia or blood clots.

"We are addressing this problem," says Lynch, "with our Comprehensive Osteoporosis Program, a referral-based program designed to fully address the needs of the osteoporosis patient. The patient participates in three assessments: one with a physical therapist who will assess pain, mobility, posture, and strength; one with an occupational therapist who will evaluate the patient's body mechanics and home environment; and one with a clinical dietitian who will assess calcium intake and nutrition."

The physical therapist tailors an exercise program to the patient's particular needs and abilities and will modify the program over time as needed. The occupational therapist advises the patient on correct body positioning, home-safety modifications, and fall-prevention strategies. And the clinical dietitian recommends nutrition therapy to stabilize and improve bone density.

"While we see fewer men than women," says Lynch, "all the precautions that apply to women - such as calcium supplements and exercise - also apply to men."

To find out more about the bone density screening test or the Comprehensive Osteoporosis Program, please talk to your doctor.

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