Seeing someone you love die slowly, in agony, and knowing nothing about the disease that killed them is heart-breaking. This was my mother 17 years ago, and the disease was called osteoporosis.
My mother was only 72. In those days, osteoporosis, a crippling bone disease, was seldom discussed, rarely diagnosed and usually attributed to old women with so-called Dowager’s hump. My family and I watched in horror as my mother shrunk in front of our eyes.
She lost about eight inches in height and became so bent she was unable to digest her food properly, leaving her with no appetite at all.
The local GP was kind and sympathetic, but he, like us, was able to do little to alleviate the terrible pain Mama suffered so stoically.
In her later years, she could not breathe without oxygen or totter around her beloved garden on her Zimmer frame.
I believe that the quality of her life became so dismal, and her suffering so unbearable, that she just gave up the fight and lost the will to live.
Like many others, we were totally ignorant of the facts that lay behind my mother’s agony. Why did her bones break so easily and why did she shrink so fast? I needed to know the answers, and this quest led me to the National Osteoporosis Society.
This charity is unique in giving help and advice to sufferers and their families as well as looking after its 25,000 members. In due course, they asked me to become their patron — and later their president — and since then we have worked together on many projects all over Britain.
It was my first ever patronage, and I’m happy to say I am still flying the flag — even to the point of dancing the cha cha with Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood, one of our recent patrons!
But as the research into osteoporosis has unfolded, the horrific statistics show that half of all women and one in five men (yes, men have it, too) over 50 will suffer a fracture.
Every year there are more fractures due to fragile bones than there are heart attacks, and it costs a staggering £6 million a day in hospital and social care for hip fractures alone.
Thousands of people in Britain are living in fear, frightened even to leave their own house in case they fall. A hip fracture is all too often the final destination of a 30-year journey of multiple fractures, fuelled by decreasing bone strength and warning signs being ignored.
But all is not gloom and doom — huge strides are being made. Thanks to the National Osteoporosis Society and the wonderful medical teams and researchers, DXA bone-scanning services are increasing in hospitals all over the country, helping with early diagnosis.
Medical treatments are improving all the time and young people, at last, are being made aware that a good diet and exercise play a vital role in keeping their bones healthy.
However, we still have a mountain to climb and, as President of the National Osteoporosis Society, I can only hope we will achieve the necessary support to help reach the summit.
Only this way can we continue to give this, too often, silent disease a voice — a voice that can be heard not only in Britain, but worldwide; a voice that can deliver our children and our grandchildren from the pain and ignominy of osteoporosis that my mother, grandmother and many thousands of others suffered.