Osteoporosis Can Increase Dementia Risk
Osteoporosis and dementia are two distinct medical conditions that cause different symptoms. Osteoporosis affects the bones while dementia affects one’s ability to think, remember, and reason. However, recent studies suggest that osteoporosis can increase the risk of dementia. This information is critical for people with osteoporosis who may be predisposed to developing dementia due to other health conditions or risk factors. It may also help them take the necessary precautions to reduce the chance of getting dementia.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes loss of bone mass in millions of American men and women. Women, especially those that are post-menopausal and typically in their 50’s, have a greater chance of developing osteoporosis. The loss of estrogen before, during, and after menopause is a leading cause of bone loss and, hence, osteoporosis in women. The bones then become thin, brittle, and weak. This increases the risk of fractures or broken bones in the spine, hips, and wrists.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is referred to as a “silent” disease since many people may not know they have it until they fracture or break a bone. In some cases, however, the following symptoms may appear:
- Neck or back pain
- Loss of height over time
- A stooped posture
- Bones fracture easily
- Spinal compression fractures
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
Factors such as age, race, medical conditions, medications, medical treatments, and lifestyle choices influence the occurrence of osteoporosis.
- Age (especially persons over 50)
- Body type (thin, petite women are more likely affected)
- One or more persons in your family have or had osteoporosis
- Taking certain medications
- Women who are Caucasian or Asian
- Having naturally low bone mass due to poor nutrition (especially low calcium intake)
- Low sex hormones levels
- Heavy smoking and drinking
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a term used to describe brain disorder symptoms that affect a person’s cognitive functions, for example, their ability to make judgments or control their emotions. It is closely linked to Alzheimer’s which is a neurodegenerative brain disease that produces some symptoms similar to dementia. A person who has two or more of the following related symptoms may have dementia:
Symptoms of Dementia
- Memory loss
- Reduced ability to think and perform routine tasks
- Trouble solving problems
- Unable to control emotions
- Behavioral changes
- Confusion with the time of the day or season of the year
Dementia Risk Factors
- Process of aging
- Head injury
- Cigarette smoking
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Sleep problems, e.g., sleep apnea
- Low sex hormone levels
- Inadequate nutrition
Making the Link Between Osteoporosis and Dementia
Results from studies conducted suggest that osteoporosis and dementia carry some risk factors that are similar. For example, these two conditions have vitamin deficiencies and low sex hormones as factors that increase a person’s chances of developing either one of these conditions.
Age: Age is a risk factor for many medical conditions including osteoporosis and dementia. When age begins to take its toll, the body is unable to function as it used to. The body’s inability to replenish bone mass as fast as it used to when you were younger is the main reason why osteoporosis occurs. Aging also affects brain cell renewal and functioning leading to neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia which is marked by loss of certain brain functions.
Excessive alcohol use: Studies have not found a link between light to moderate drinking and osteoporosis and dementia. However, consuming two or more alcoholic drinks per day increases your risk of osteoporosis. Heavy alcohol consumption and binge drinking are also linked to dementia, especially in people who are midlife. People who consume a bottle of wine or five or more beers in one sitting are said to be three times as likely to have dementia by age 65.
Smoking tobacco: Independent studies done on the link between smoking tobacco and the occurrence of these two medical conditions show that tobacco use can make the bones weak. They also found that the more a person smokes the greater the chance of dementia due to toxins found in tobacco.
Low sex hormones: Lowered estrogen level is common in menopausal and postmenopausal women. Bones become weak as a result and can lead to osteoporosis. Estrogen also affects how chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin are used to send signals to the brain.
Similarly, aging and prostate cancer treatments cause a loss of the sex hormone testosterone in men, thereby accelerating bone loss. Men with low testosterone may also experience a degeneration of brain cells and a decline in brain functions. As such, having sufficient estrogen and testosterone can reduce bone loss, protect brain cells, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and dementia in men and women.
Inadequate nutrition: A healthy, balanced diet is vital for nourishing the body and brain. Calcium is especially needed for developing strong bones during the early years when the body quickly replenishes bone loss. Men and women who lacked sufficient calcium throughout their life more often develop osteoporosis. Inadequate vitamin D also increase the risk since vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium. Incidentally, insufficient intake of vitamins D and K is linked to loss of brain functions associated with dementia.
What Does This Mean for People with Osteoporosis?
Considering the similarities in some of the risk factors of osteoporosis and dementia, you may see why researchers suspect that having osteoporosis can place you at a higher risk of developing dementia. However, studies are not conclusive.
It is important to note that having the risk factors of osteoporosis does not mean you will get this bone disease. Those risk factors also do not suggest that you will get dementia. It is people who already have osteoporosis that have a greater risk of having dementia.
While studies are ongoing to figure out definitively how osteoporosis increases the chance of dementia, you can take precautions to reduce its occurrence. This can be done by managing health conditions and making lifestyle changes such eating a balanced diet and quit smoking and drinking. Men and women also have the option of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to boost their estrogen or testosterone levels.