When to Have a Bone Density Test Performed, and Why
Bone loss progresses, largely unnoticed, over the course of decades. Fortunately, there is a way to measure its progress and how much bone loss has taken place. A Bone Density Test, or a Bone Mineral Density Test, is a safe, totally painless and non-invasive procedure done on an outpatient basis.
Through the use of varying testing technologies, bone density can be measured in different parts of the body: hips, spine, wrist, and so on. Of late, FDA-approved tests measure bone density in the finger, heel or shinbone.
The test results are a comparison of the bone density of the person being tested against two yardsticks. One, called the “aged-match” standard, compares bone density against the norm for a given age, gender and size. The other standard is called the “young normal” standard in which bone density is matched against the optimal bone density of a healthy young adult of the same gender.
The test results allow a physician to make decisions about the relative current or future risk for fractures. Those judgments guide follow-up actions concerning overall bone health and degree of risk. Deciding when or if to have a bone density test done depends on array of risk factors involving genetics, family history, diet and lifestyle, including:
A person whose circumstances match the majority of these factors is a good candidate for a bone density test.
Icy walkways present special hazard for older adults
Negotiating an icy sidewalk is difficult enough even for someone with normal eyesight, balance and agility. For older adults with impaired motor skills, poor eyesight or balance problems, venturing out the front door for any reason in icy conditions carries grave risks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths and the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.
Marc F. Brassard, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon with Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine, LLC, said, “In an average week AAMC’s Emergency Department may admit as many as five to seven hip fracture patients, which is a number that surprises many people.”
“During weather when ice and snow are on the ground,” he continued, “that number goes up dramatically, not just hip fractures but wrists and ankles as well.”
Edward R. McDevitt, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon with Bay Area Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine, said that older adults in the colder climates of Scandinavian countries wear hip pads as a preventive measure. “It’s difficult to imagine that catching on here any time soon,” he added.
What can seniors and their families do to reduce the risk of a fall? Seniors, after consulting with their doctor, can embark on a program of regular physical activity to enhance lower body strength and balance. Another tactic is to review with a doctor or pharmacist the list of over-the-counter and prescription medicines being taken. Whittling down the number of medications in use, especially sleeping pills, tranquilizers or anti-anxiety drugs, may eliminate drug interactions as well as increase alertness and awareness of surroundings and potential hazards.
Families, neighbors and friends of older adults can help with errands and transport. Walkways, driveways and sidewalks on or near an older adult’s residence should be kept clear of ice or melting snow that can turn to ice.