Dealing with Osteoporosis

As Taiwan society ages, this challenging condition is becoming more prevalent.

With the rapid rise in the proportion of elderly people in the Taiwan population, one of the medical conditions that will require increased attention is osteoporosis. A progressive skeletal disease characterized by decreased bone density and weakened bone tissue, osteoporosis frequently leads to falls and fractures among senior citizens, especially women. The result can be severe pain, disability, and even death due to infection.

AmCham’s Public Health Committee has been seeking to raise public awareness of the seriousness of the problem. It notes that osteoporosis is often called the “silent killer of the elderly.” Without leaving any obvious signs, the disease gradually hollows out the bones so that a mild bump or fall can result in a fracture. Domestic studies have shown that one in three women, and one in five men, over the age of 50 suffer from osteoporosis. 

Hip fractures are the most serious consequence, leaving patients heavily reliant on the care of others and causing a heavy burden for the public healthcare system, the Committee notes. It cites National Health Insurance Administration statistics showing that Taiwan has the highest incidence of hip fractures in Asia, with nearly 20,000 people diagnosed with the injury every year. Up to 80% of patients with hip fractures become disabled, and 20% of them die within a year.

In the absence of a fracture, osteoporosis often goes undiagnosed as there are no evident symptoms. The Committee is therefore urging increased efforts at early detection of osteoporosis and fracture prevention through screening programs and health intervention. Besides expanded screening for those over 65 years of age, it is urging the Ministry of Health and Welfare to engage in more public education to raise awareness regarding bone health.  In addition, the Committee is recommending expanded coverage of osteoporosis treatment under the National Health Insurance system. Currently NHI provides reimbursement only for patients who have already experienced a fracture. But preventing a first fracture should be just as important, since elderly people who have already had one fall are far more vulnerable to repeated, potentially even more serious fractures.