The Silent Thief

By Judee Fong

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Osteoporosis is often referred to as "the silent thief" because it furtively robs both men and women of their bone density causing thin, porous bones susceptible to fractures.

Osteoporosis Canada reports that one in three women and one in five men will have a fracture of the wrist, hip or spine, suspected areas for osteoporosis, as the result of a fall. They are also at a higher risk for more fractures if they fall again. Unless their doctors are alert, they will not be diagnosed until more falls and fractures occur.

Larry Funnell, board member for Osteoporosis Canada and chairperson for the Canadian Osteoporosis Patient Network (COPN), knows this well as he remembers thinking he was simply “klutzy.” He had already suffered numerous fractures by stepping on a stone in the dark; slipping on wet grass; reaching for a cardboard box and climbing on the back of a camel. By then, a doctor suspected fragility fractures, and a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test confirmed his suspicions. When first diagnosed 15 years ago, Larry recalls thinking, “Wait a minute, men don’t get osteoporosis, do they?” Today, Larry tries to reach more men in his public talks for COPN and Osteoporosis Canada.

Healthy bones maintain a balance of new cells replacing old cells that have broken down – a process that slows with age. With osteoporosis, there are more bone cells lost than replaced, upsetting the balance.

Health Canada lists risk factors that include: family history of osteoporosis; low-calcium diet; lack of regular physical exercise; smoking; vitamin-D deficiency; more than four cups of caffeine daily and more than two glasses of alcohol daily, rheumatoid arthritis and previous fragility fractures after the age of 40.

Caron Vince, Geriatric Nurse at Royal Jubilee Hospital’s Senior Outpatient Clinic, adds, “Women going through menopause have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis due to the decrease in estrogen levels. Discuss your concerns with your doctor.”

Health Canada and Osteoporosis Canada highly recommend that all individuals, over 65+ have a BMD test and those aged 50-64 have a BMD test plus a fracture risk assessment under certain conditions. A Diagnosis Fact Sheet is available at:

Mubeena Miller, physiotherapist at the Royal Jubilee Hospital’s Senior Outpatient Clinic, works with small groups of high-risk seniors who have fallen and are taught balance and weight-bearing exercises. Mubeena emphasizes, “Not all falls are caused by osteoporosis. Seniors can fall due to poor vision; inner ear problems causing poor balance; inadequate diet; multiple medications; a sudden drop in blood pressure causing light-headedness and dizziness; scattered rugs in the home, improper footwear and even lack of sleep affecting coordination. If the fall, checked by x-ray, results in any fractures especially in suspect areas, then the BMD test would be ordered to confirm osteoporosis.”

Daily exercise is extremely important in order to maintain good bone health. Oak Bay Recreation Centre offers “Fall Prevention for 50+” and Monterey Recreation Centre offers “Osteofitness 50+.” Both teach balancing exercises as well as weight-bearing exercises using flex bands, small hand balls and hand weights – exercises that can be continued at home.

The exercises are done at an individual’s comfort level, gradually increasing the intensity. When done correctly and regularly, the muscles and tendons becomes stronger supporting the skeletal system. Staying active with weight-bearing exercises like Nordic pole walking, hiking, walking, biking, dancing, golfing, bowling, tai chi and yoga are some of the exercises done by many osteoporotic individuals. However, an individual with spinal or lumbar osteoporosis, would want to limit yoga movements where the body is bending or twisting unless the instructor is trained to modify the moves.

Besides regular exercise, treatment for osteoporosis involves a calcium-rich diet/supplements (1200mg daily), vitamin D diet/supplements (800-2000 IU daily) and a prescribed medication of a bisphosphonates such as Fosomax, Boniva, Actonel or Aclasta, which slows bone loss and helps improve bone density.

Some sources of dietary calcium include dairy products, canned salmon and sardines with their bones, shrimp, broccoli, oranges, leafy greens, turnip greens, beet greens, cabbage, rolled oats and almonds. Consult a dietician for a complete list or if other health limitations are involved.

Dental health is also important for osteoporotic individuals taking bisphosphonates. Be sure your dentist is aware of your diagnosis and keep regular dental visits.
Individuals with osteoporosis, knowing their limitations, can still maintain a healthy active lifestyle.

For more information and to find local chapters of Osteoporosis Canada, visit or call toll-free 1-800-463-6842; to reach Canadian Osteoporosis Patient Network (COPN), visit or email

For calcium sources, dieticians and preventing falls, visit Healthlink BC at and; or call 8-1-1 to speak with a nurse any time of the day or night.


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Showing 1 to 2 of 2 comments.

excellent article Larry. You are doing an important job reaching out to men.

Posted by Linda Gokey | October 9, 2013 Report Violation

Good job, Larry! You are a wonderful advocate and COPN and Osteoporosis Canada are fortunate to have you doing so well!.

Posted by Ina | October 7, 2013 Report Violation

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