Osteoporosis is a silent disease that tends to sneak up on a person quietly. That is why it is sometimes only detected at an advanced stage. A chronic condition, it is characterised by weakened bones prone to fractures – a condition which presents significant challenges for those affected.

Once osteoporosis progresses to the point where people require daily support in carrying out normal functions, a family member will become the caregiver, or the family may be advised to employ a caregiver who is readily trained in the specialised care that osteoporosis patients need. This is a crucial role providing multi-faceted care that must encompass physical, emotional and logistical support.

Providing physical support: mobility and exercise

  • Individuals with osteoporosis often face limitations in mobility and activities of daily living due to the risk of fractures. Caregivers assist getting their patient to take gentle walks, moving from one place to another, and ensuring a safe environment to prevent falls.
  • Apart from teaching proper body mechanics to minimise the risk of fractures due to incorrect posture and movements, they may also help with household chores, lifting heavy objects, etc.
  • Facilitating and overseeing exercise and rehabilitation programmes prescribed by healthcare professionals is a key aspect of duties. Regular physical activity, including weight-bearing exercises and strength training, is essential for maintaining bone health and preventing further deterioration. Caregivers encourage and assist individuals with osteoporosis in adhering to exercise regimens, ensuring safety and proper technique during workouts.

Managing the meds

  • Effective management of osteoporosis often involves medication therapy to prevent bone loss and reduce the risks of fractures. Caregivers are instrumental in medication management, and are responsible for ensuring timely administration of prescribed medications, monitoring for side effects, and ordering medication refills. Organising pillboxes, setting medication reminders, and co-ordinating with healthcare providers regarding adjustments in treatment, are all part of the caregiver’s routine.
  • Medication safety is further emphasized by educating patients about the importance of medication compliance, potential drug interactions, and the proper storage of medications. Another key responsibility is ensuring individuals receive appropriate prescriptions and dosages.

Sharing the emotional journey

  • Living with osteoporosis can evoke various emotional challenges, including fear, anxiety, depression, and feelings of vulnerability. Caregivers provide invaluable emotional support by offering empathy, reassurance, and companionship to individuals coping with the emotional impact of the condition. They should be well aware that they are invaluable in creating a supportive environment where individuals feel understood, valued, and emotionally validated.
  • People with osteoporosis should be assisted to maintain a positive outlook and quality of life despite the challenges they face. Caregivers play a crucial role in empowering individuals through active listening, open communication, and continual encouragement. They provide vital support as patients build coping strategies, develop resilience, and navigate the emotional ups and downs associated with living with a chronic condition.

Playing the nutrition card

  • Every osteoporosis caregiver should know that nutrition plays a fundamental role in maintaining bone health and supporting overall wellbeing in individuals with osteoporosis. They will be well aware that access to healthy and balanced meals rich in calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients necessary for bone strength and density, is of prime importance. In this regard, they collaborate regularly with healthcare professionals and nutritionists to develop personalised meal plans that meet the specific dietary needs and preferences of the individual in their care.
  • Focus on nutrition includes assisting with meal preparations, grocery shopping, and dietary management, taking into account any dietary restrictions or considerations related to osteoporosis and any co-existing conditions their patient may have.

Creating awareness through advocacy and education

  • Within the healthcare system and across the broader community, caregivers often are the voice of those suffering this disease. They play a vital role in navigating healthcare services, insurance coverage, and access to specialised care as well as resources for osteoporosis management. Caregivers are at the forefront of advocation for comprehensive healthcare assessments, bone density testing, and preventive interventions that optimise bone health and reduce fracture risk.
  • Caregivers need to also keep up to date with developments in this field. They need to stay informed about the latest research, treatment options, and self-care strategies. In turn, they must be able to inform those individuals in their care, advising on latest treatment options and lifestyle modifications to effectively manage osteoporosis, so that people can make informed decisions about their health.
  • This also means that caregivers need to be involved in educating family members and friends with regard to: osteoporosis awareness; various measures with regard to fracture prevention; the importance of support and understanding for individuals living with the condition.

Through dedication, compassion, and advocacy, caregivers contribute significantly to the holistic management of osteoporosis, empowering individuals to navigate the challenges of the condition with resilience and dignity.

They are also very often the invisible, unsung heroes. Especially where family members are the care-givers – they sometimes do this 24 hours a day with no breaks or time for themselves. If you know of someone like this, ask whether they need an hour or two for a much needed cup of tea, visit to the hair salon, or to just take a breather. It will be appreciated mor than you know!

NOFSA (National Osteoporosis Foundation South Africa)

NOFSA is the only non-profit, voluntary health organisation dedicated to promoting lifelong bone health. We focus on reducing the widespread prevalence of osteoporosis while working to find a cure for the disease, and by supporting research and developing programmes of education and advocacy.

Find out more about our work at: www.osteoporosis.org.za