A Word with the DOCTOR
by Dr John Winsor
The Sunday Times of Malta

IT'S QUITE RIGHT - old people should try to keep young. Try to keep up old interests. Even develop some hobbies.

But there's one luxury they should spare themselves: falling down. Slippery floors and rugs with ragged edges may be relatively harmless for youngsters, but should always be avoided for older people.

It's true that as we get older we fall more clumsily and frequently; but also our bones get weaker.

This worsening of the bones is because of changes in the bone structure. You could take some of the struts and supports out of a bridge, and it might look just the same, and certainly no smaller.

But one would not suggest that trains could still go over it.

Thinning of bones is called osteoporosis, and it can happen for other reasons than old age.

It is more common in women than in men: the former most often at the time of the menopause. This unhappy weakening of our bones can also follow the regular and prolonged taking of certain drugs, especially cortisone.

Osteoporosis can cause a lot of odd symptoms. It is sometimes a cause of backache; or the patient gets a broken bone after a remarkably trivial accident.

In the elderly it is generally the long thigh bone - the femur - which collapses under quite a minor strain or fall.

If anyone has been told they have a thinning of bone (and this has to be proved by X-ray), they must take extra care not to do any heavy lifting or straining.

They need a diet with plenty of protein and vitamins. These last two are so often poorly supplied in the elderly, who sometimes live alone, and have no stimulus to do proper baking or cooking.

For a long time, it was thought that this thinning of bone at any age might be due to a lack of calcium, and patients were stuffed with it.

Big doses of calcium were disappointing, and a varied diet gives anybody enough of this mineral anyway.

Finally, if grandma is changing houses after her brood has grown up, try to get her to accept a bungalow instead of an up-and-down. Fractures are much less frequent in the former.

There are now drugs available to help combat the problem, but taking precautions to avoid falls is always practical.