Family, friends and support for people with osteoporosis

Here people affected by osteoporosis talk about family and friends and the times when they have needed practical and emotional support.
Many people needed practical and sometimes emotional support when they had experienced severe pain due to fractures and/or deterioration of their condition. Usually the need for support diminished as the fracture began to mend and people’s mobility improved. Often people’s medication controlled osteoporosis well, meaning that it prevented further bone loss, thus allowing them to maintain an independent lifestyle (see also Pain and medication in osteoporosis and Impact on home).
Several of the people we talked to however, needed some degree of practical help on a regular basis, which they mostly received from their family, friends and neighbours. Some said that children, partners and other family members gave practical help with cooking, housework, shopping, transport and personal care. But others lived alone with no family nearby and so, for practical everyday things they relied on friends, neighbours or paid help.
But some elderly people said that they have an increasingly reduced support network as siblings and friends have died or they are also elderly and frail and unable to help. Nonetheless, both Sydney and Beryl mentioned that their main source of support was their friends who were similar in age to themselves.
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A change to domestic roles also took place for a few women who said that their husbands became their main carer and responsible for all the housework.
Older children of people who have severe osteoporosis tended to rally round and gave emotional or practical support. James situation has somewhat changed since his daughter left England to live abroad. She helped him emotionally and practically, particularly driving him to his hospital appointments.
Several people said that when they had been unable to do things for themselves they had received help from Social Services. For instance, James and his wife have home help for two hours each week and Pat had home help and a care assistant for two years. A few, like Joan, are in receipt of a carers allowance that enables them to pay someone to look after them and to help them with the cleaning. Cressida doesn’t like the idea of having to ask for help because she would feel a failure whilst Emma hasn’t thought about asking any organisation for help because she has the support of her son.
But not everyone felt that they had received the help and support they needed.
Social Services had helped some people by making adaptations to their home such as handrails on the stairs and in the bathroom, and elevated toilet seats and extra steps. Betty and Susannah had found the local city councils helpful because they organised free transport services for the elderly and disabled people to go shopping. Local Health Authorities provided some people, like Christine and James, with transport to attend hospital appointments or the rehabilitation centre.
Some people employed someone on a regular basis to clean the house and to do tasks that they found difficult or impossible to do, like turning a mattress or doing the laundry. Several also paid someone to do the garden or to clean the windows.
People also needed help with rehabilitation after a fracture and friends, neighbours and close family helped in different ways according to their free time and geographical proximity. Joan found it a challenge when she fractured both her arms because she lived alone. She had to go into hospital for two months and when she went back home she needed a carer until she was able to fend for herself. Chris also lived alone and while recovering from her broken ankle she had to rely on others for support and was disappointed by the response of some of her neighbours.
Sometimes people needed emotional support. Several said that after diagnosis, surgery or when they felt low following a fracture they talked to their partners, children or friends about their fears and concerns. Whilst many people said that having osteoporosis hadn’t affected relationships with their family and friends, in a few cases osteoporosis had affected relationships. Chris said that her diagnosis led her to revaluate her marriage after her husband failed to give her the emotional support she needed. After taking part in a pain management course, Robert learnt about the importance of talking to his wife about how he feels.
Laurence and Robert pointed out that sometimes family members did not really understand what it was like to be affected by osteoporosis, in particular the pain involved. Since it is a silent illness Laurence and Carol felt that people sometimes failed to grasp its severity or forgot about the pain they were experiencing because unlike a fractured arm, you can’t see it.
Friendships can be affected when people become ill. While many said their friends had been an important source of support, a few people had lost contact with some friends. Robert had lost contact with lot of his friends because he couldn’t take part in the same social activities and so they had drifted apart. Chris said that her illness had shown her who her true friends were.
A few people said that being in pain changed their personality which had affected their relationships. Robert felt sad that he has lost contact with his siblings after becoming ill because they didn’t understand what he was experiencing. While she was ill, Jane said that her and her partner ‘pulled together’ in order to cope with the situation but after the urgency of their situation subsided this connection ended. When Robert and his wife stopped working after he was diagnosed, they had to find ways of managing the greater amount of time they spent together so that it didn’t affect their relationship. For younger adults like David, the relationship with his family is important and they have been very supportive but he is now more likely to confide in his friends rather than his parents. Others, like Gloria and Jenny, felt reassured to know that their partners were concerned for their welfare but said that osteoporosis hadn’t affected anything.
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Some people had worries about how their illness might affect relationships in the future. Emma is concerned about her health deteriorating and the responsibilities it would mean for her children. Laurence thinks that his wife wouldn’t want the responsibility of looking after him if his condition were to worsen. Laurence’s children are also worried about getting osteoporosis because there is a history of it on both sides of the family
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Last reviewed June 2017.


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