Thursday, May 28, 2015

Elder Abuse - The Grandparent Scam

When people think about elder abuse, they might not consider one of the most common ways seniors are victimized: scams that target elders. 
One of the most common scams going around—you might even call it an epidemic—is what’s called “The Grandparent Scam.” If you have seniors in your life, take a minute to warn them about this common form of fraud—which is particularly cruel because it takes advantage of a grandparent’s love.
Here’s a short introduction from the National Center on Elder Abuse:
Q: What is the “grandparent scam”?
A: The “grandparent scam” is a scam that targets the elderly in an attempt to steal large sums of money through a wire transfer. Financial losses from this scam are usually several thousand dollars per victim.
Q: How does it happen?
A: A grandparent receives a phone call or email from someone who claims to be a grandchild. (Sometimes, the caller claims to be a police officer, lawyer, doctor or other person.) The person states that they are traveling in a foreign country and have gotten into a bad situation. The person claims to need money wired ASAP.
Q: What can I do?
A: Resist the pressure to act quickly. Contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether the call is legitimate. Never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an email, especially overseas.
Q: What if I have been scammed?
A: Contact your local law enforcement or state consumer protection agency. File a complaint with Internet Complaint Center (IC3) at
These crooks are very skilled at fooling people of any age—but they most often target older adults. It’s worth having a conversation about this topic. To get the conversation started, here is a video recommended by the U.S. Administration for Community Living that you can watch together.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on information from the National Center on Elder Abuse ( Find more resources and outreach tools for World Elder Abuse Day 2015 on the U.S. Administration for Community Living website

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Can Helping Others Protect Our Brains?

Volunteers often receive a plaque or certificate honoring them for their service. Might they also receive an MRI showing increased brain health?
Most people who volunteer say that civic engagement gives them a big mood boost and a sense of accomplishment. Now, researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have shown that helping others can actually slow the shrinking of the brain that happens as we grow older.
Over the course of two years, Professor Michelle Carlson and her team studied a group of seniors. At the beginning of the study, the team took MRI scans of the brains of the participants, who were an average of 67.2 years old.
Then, half of the study subjects began participating in the Baltimore Experience Corps, a program that brings retired people into public schools to serve as mentors for young children and to help them learn to read.
Two years later, brain scans showed that the seniors who had taken part in the volunteer program had maintained their brain size. Some participants even showed a modest growth in the memory center of the brain. The volunteer group also demonstrated an improvement on memory tests. By contrast, the seniors who did not volunteer exhibited typical age-related brain shrinkage.
“Someone once said to me that being in this program removed the cobwebs from her brain, and this study shows that is exactly what is happening,” said Carlson. “By helping others, participants are helping themselves in ways beyond just feeding their souls. They are helping their brains. The brain shrinks as part of aging, but with this program we appear to have stopped that shrinkage and are reversing part of the aging process.”
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health ( The research was published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Does Facebook Have a Depressing Downside for Seniors?

More and more seniors are using Facebook to connect with family and friends. When mobility challenges, retirement or the loss of spouse and friends make it harder to be socially active, social media can be a good way to supplement in-person social activity. Seniors are the fastest-growing group to use Facebook, and studies show that online socialization has certain similar benefits to spending time in the physical presence of others.
So it might be surprising to learn that a research team from the University of Houston warns people that using Facebook can be linked with depressive symptoms in certain circumstances. What would account for this? According to researcher Mai-Ly Steers, if we spend our Facebook time primarily comparing our lives to those of others, we can end up feeling sad.
According to the study, “The concept of social comparison is not new. In fact, it has been studied in face-to-face contexts since the 1950s. However, engaging in social comparisons on online social media sites may make people feel even worse.”
Why would this be? First of all, says Steers, Facebook can give us more information about people than we get in real life—including frequent updates about what friends and acquaintance are doing and accomplishing. And here’s another thing to remember, given human nature: According to Steers, “Most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad. If we’re comparing ourselves to our friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives.”
Not much good comes of comparing ourselves to others! So remember—next time an old chum sends you a friend request, they no doubt carefully selected the most flattering profile photo, and they’re most likely to post photos of that Hawaii vacation, versus the weekend they spent doing laundry. Enjoy your friends’ accomplishments, but remember—just as in real life, there’s not much to gain from comparing ourselves to others. And even as your friends are putting their best foot forward on their Facebook wall, they may be comparing themselves unfavorably to you!
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on study from University of Houston

Monday, May 18, 2015

Prepare Your Produce Safely

We’re advised to eat five daily servings of vegetables and fruits every day to stay in the best of health. But what about all those news stories about food-born illnesses?
When we think of food-born illness, we usually think of meat or dairy products as being the culprit. But fruits and vegetables can also present a risk, especially for seniors, who are more vulnerable to E. coli and other harmful microorganisms. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) offers tips for preparing all those wonderful summer vegetables we find in abundance this time of year. AICR nutrition experts, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, advise rinsing all fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them. This recommendation also applies to produce with rinds or skins that are not eaten.
What about packaged produce labeled “ready to eat,” “pre-washed” or “triple washed”? You don’t have to wash these varieties again at home, because bagged precut vegetables are washed multiple times in chlorinated water to kill pathogens. Just make sure they are refrigerated until ready to eat and aren’t consumed after the “use by” date. Any bacteria they may pick up would probably come from handling in your kitchen.
That’s why it’s important to use soap and hot water to clean all surfaces and utensils, including cutting boards, peelers, counter tops, knives and dishes that will touch fresh produce. Keep cutting boards for vegetables and fruits separate from those you use for meat. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh fruits and vegetables.
Rubbing fruits and vegetables by hand under running water usually does the trick. Or you can use a scrub brush for any produce with rough or grooved skins. Soaking is not advised, because the water is stagnant; make sure you rinse under running water. Pay attention to crevices that grit can hide in, such as between the florets of broccoli and cauliflower, or the grit hidden in the wrinkles of mature spinach leaves. Remove the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage. (The AICR advises that it is not a good idea to use antibacterial soap or detergent to wash your produce, because it isn't known how safe any residue might be that is left on it.)
Leafy greens need a little extra attention because they grow close to the ground. Separate the leaves, then rinse and rub each leaf until no visible dirt is left. Dry with paper towels or place them in an inexpensive plastic spinner, which works much faster.
Produce that has rough or indented skins, like cantaloupes, needs to be scrubbed with a small brush to effectively remove all the dirt and bacteria. This prevents bacteria on the surface of the fruit from being transferred to the inside of the fruit by your knife.
Scrubbing is best for wax-coated items, too, such as cucumbers, apples, peppers and tomatoes. Wax is only applied to some kinds of produce that is supplied by large companies. It is a plant-based substance that seals in moisture and protects the produce from contamination. Although the wax itself is not hazardous to your health, it does allow dirt to stick to the produce, so washing waxed items is still advisable.
Do you need to buy a cleaning spray? Many grocery stores now sell bottled washes that are touted to be environmentally safe, able to impede the growth of bacteria and wash away chemicals, soil and wax. Studies have not shown that using these products makes food any safer. If it makes you feel better, there is likely nothing wrong with using such a product, but be sure to follow the directions on the product’s label.
It only takes a couple of minutes to wash your produce and safeguard your loved ones from food-born illnesses. Try to buy your produce locally and eat plenty of vegetables and fruits every day for good health and lower cancer risk.
Source: The American Institute for Cancer Research. The AICR focuses on the link between diet and cancer. Visit their website ( for a wealth of information and recipes for healthy eating.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

National Safety Council Says Take Off Your Smart Watch Before Starting Your Car

Over the years, the National Safety Council (NSC) has warned consumers of the dangers of talking on their cell phone while driving. And during the recent Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the NSC highlighted the surprising fact that hands-free devices are no safer, because the brain remains distracted by the conversation. And it goes without saying, of course, that texting while driving can be deadly.
But what about the new smart watches? The NSC has just released this statement:
The National Safety Council is concerned about the risks of using a smart watch, such as the newly released Apple Watch, while driving. Numerous studies have shown that drivers using cell phones significantly increase their risk of being involved in a crash. Smart watches, which have capabilities similar to smart phones, could be even riskier, according a study conducted in the U.K.
Drivers wearing smart watches can call, text, email and surf the web, but the watch also vibrates when it receives a notification. That vibration could be very difficult to ignore; a natural impulse will be to look at our wrist. This could take a driver’s eyes off the road and mind off the drive—a recipe for disaster.
The Council urges everyone who purchases a smart watch to turn it off or remove it before driving. All calls can kill, and no text, email or social media update is worth a life.
Source: The National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to save lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy. Visit the National Safety Council website ( to find safety education information for consumers and experts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2015 White House Conference on Aging Emphasizes Healthy Aging

For half a century, the White House Conference on Aging has been held each decade to examine the issues of older adults in the United States, and to set goals to promote the well-being of our seniors. One of the key areas of this year’s conference is an increased focus on healthy aging.
The Conference has listed four particular ways our nation’s senior support systems are supporting older adults, both in maintaining good health, and in managing health conditions and disabilities:
Physical activity
Increasing physical activity is one of the best ways Americans can prevent disease and injury. It reduces the risk of many negative health outcomes in older adults, including early death, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, several forms of cancer, depression, cognitive decline, and falls. Physical activity reduces pain and improves function for those with arthritis and other chronic conditions. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Physical Activity Guidelines For Americans includes recommendations for how older Americans can remain physically active. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiated the Go4Life Campaign to help older Americans fit exercise and physical activity into their daily lives. The Administration for Community Living (ACL) supports evidence-based physical activity and fitness programs.
Studies show that a healthy diet in later years reduces the risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart diseases and certain cancers. NIH provides practical advice on nutrition for older adults in a resource called “What’s On Your Plate? Smart Food Choices for Healthy Aging.” Recognizing the importance of nutrition and socialization to older adults, the President’s 2016 budget includes nearly $904 million for HHS’ Administration for Community Living to support meals for older Americans, targeting at-risk populations. In addition, the budget includes a proposal that would make it easier for low-income older Americans to access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Preventive health services
Screening and early treatment for diseases and behavioral health conditions are crucial to optimizing physical health and achieving healthy aging. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Aging Program assists health professionals in early detection and prevention of diseases in older adults. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) recognizes the value of prevention and increases Medicare coverage of preventive services for older adults. In addition to an annual wellness visit to help beneficiaries maintain a personalized prevention plan to stay healthy and prevent disease and disability, Medicare now covers many preventive services and screenings with no copayments.
Managing chronic conditions
The Administration recognizes the need for a culture change in how we address chronic conditions (like arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and heart disease) in the United States and the need for a focus on supporting health. To this end, HHS has released “Multiple Chronic Conditions: A Strategic Framework” for the health care system to use in helping to improve the health status of individuals with multiple chronic conditions—which includes more than two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries. In addition, HHS is investing in research to advance our understanding of effective chronic disease self-management, and sponsors evidence-based chronic disease self-management programs. Grants to state governments are providing tools and education to older adults so they can better manage chronic conditions, resulting in better health.
Preventing injury
Falls are the leading cause of injuries, including hip fractures and head trauma, among older adults. Each year, one in three Americans over age 65 falls, and the fear of falling may lead older adults to limit their activities, which actually worsens mobility, increases their risk of falling, and detracts from quality of life. HHS supports grants to states and tribes to increase participation in evidence-based community programs to reduce falls and fall risk among older adults and adults with disabilities. The President’s 2016 Budget includes $5 million to support the National Falls Prevention Resource Center and to support new community-based grants to grow and sustain evidence-based falls prevention interventions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a multi-pronged approach to increase the level of engagement of, and partnership with, the medical community to integrate falls screening, assessments, and interventions into the clinical setting.
This is just a small sample of the issues covered by this year’s conference; the website of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging will offer ongoing updates.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on information from the 2015 White House Conference on Aging. Learn more about White House Conference on Aging 2015 here.  [link to]. And read the recent 2015 White House Conference of Aging policy brief on healthy aging [add link to:].

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Science Confirms Healthy Aging Benefits of Tai Chi

These days when you enter the activities area of a senior living community or senior center, you are less likely to encounter a bingo game in progress and more likely to see participants gracefully assuming poses while exhaling slowly. This practice—tai chi—has become very popular as part of seniors’ exercise routines these days. Is there scientific proof that this ancient practice really provides health benefits?
Over the past few years, tai chi has been at the top of the list of “alternative therapies” with benefits that have been proven with valid research. Universities and health institutions have found that tai chi helps senior improve their balance, mood and joint health. It has become part of the fall protection strategy for many older adults.
What is tai chi?
Tai chi (sometimes called “qi gong” or “tai chi chuan”) is a body awareness practice which originated in China as a martial art. It is sometimes called “moving meditation,” as the goal is to increase awareness of one’s body in space. Traditionally, tai chi practitioners speak of the concepts of yin andyang and a life force called qi, but whatever your beliefs, the actual physical practice of tai chi can be a good part of a fitness routine.
During a tai chi session, participants engage in slow, flowing movements while breathing deeply. They assume a series of postures that may remind you of yoga. The goal is to concentrate and to put aside distracting thoughts, to achieve a balance between relaxation and focus.
Tai chi is often practiced in groups, but once trained, people can also do it alone. Many practitioners enjoy a morning tai chi session in a park or other outdoor place when the weather is nice.
What are the benefits?
Tai chi is a great exercise for seniors. It is gentle on the joints, requires no equipment, and can be performed at home or in a free or inexpensive class. After their tai chi session, many seniors report feeling a spiritual lift that improves mood and allows for a sense of well-being for the rest of the day. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) says that the 2.3 million Americans who currently practice tai chi report improved sleep, conditioning and overall wellness. Tai chi has been found to be beneficial for people who are suffering from a number of age-related health challenges:
Falls. Tai chi is more and more being used in fall prevention programs. According to The American College of Rheumatology, tai chi can improve posture, balance, proprioception (the sense of position) and coordination. The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation pointed out that tai chi reduces fall risk by decreasing the fear of falling through increased self-confidence. And Tufts-New England Medical Center physician Dr. Chenchen Wang reported that “long-term tai chi had favorable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness and reduced the risk of falls in the elderly. Benefit was also found for balance, strength and flexibility in older subjects; and pain, stress and anxiety in healthy subjects.”
Arthritis. In another study, Wang and her colleagues found that osteoarthritis patients who engaged in regular tai chi sessions experienced improved physical function and decreased pain. Wang explained that the physical components of tai chi are consistent with exercise recommendations for arthritis, which include range of motion, muscle conditioning and aerobic workout. The mental components of tai chi improve the perception of pain by promoting a sense of well-being, triggering the release of endorphins, the body’s own pain relievers.
Depression. Researchers from the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences confirmed that tai chi can be effective in fighting depression in older adults. UCLA professor-in-residence Helen Lavretsky stated, “Adding a mind-body exercise like tai chi that is widely available in the community can improve the outcomes of treating depression in older adults, who may also have other, coexisting medical conditions or cognitive impairment.” And for some seniors, tai chi might offer benefits to rival prescription antidepressant drugs, which can cause negative side effects or undesirable interactions with the other medicines a senior takes. Says Lavretsky, “With tai chi, we may be able to treat these conditions without exposing patients to additional medications.”
Studies also show tai chi can be beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and stroke. A 2014 study even showed that tai chi benefits us on the cellular level, which could slow the aging process in general.
Is tai chi safe?
Tai chi is considered to be generally safe. The National Institute on Aging encourages seniors to tell their healthcare provider about any complementary and alternative practices they use. People with osteoporosis, joint problems, hernia, injuries or other medical conditions should talk to their healthcare provider before starting tai chi. It may be best to begin with the help of an instructor to be certain of performing the movements correctly. As with any exercise program, overdoing it can lead to sore muscles afterwards. Avoidance of certain postures, or using modified postures, may be recommended.

Friday, May 8, 2015

May Is American Stroke Month: Tips for Family Caregivers

When a loved one has a stroke, family members are often overwhelmed with countless questions. As part of American Stroke Month in May, the American Stroke Association offers 15 tips to help.
  1. It’s better to find out than miss out. Be aware of the medications that have been prescribed to your loved one and their side effects. Ask if your home should be modified to meet the specific needs of the stroke survivor. Ask a doctor, nurse or therapist to clarify any unanswered questions or to provide written information that explains what treatment occurs after the stroke and during recovery and rehabilitation.
  2. Reduce risks, or stroke may strike again. Survivors who have had one stroke are at high risk of having another one if treatment recommendations are not followed. Make sure your loved one eats a healthy diet, exercises, takes medications as prescribed, and has regular visits with the physician to help prevent another stroke.
  3. Many factors influence recovery. Recovery depends on many different factors: where in the brain the stroke occurred, how much of the brain was affected, the patient’s motivation, caregiver support, the quantity and quality of rehabilitation, and how healthy the survivor was before the stroke. Because every stroke and stroke survivor is unique, avoid comparisons.
  4. Gains can happen quickly or slowly over time. The most rapid recovery usually occurs during the first three to four months after a stroke, but some stroke survivors continue to recover well into the first and second year after a stroke.
  5. Some signs point to the need for physical therapy. Caregivers should consider seeking assistance from a physical or occupational therapist if their loved one has any of these complaints:
    •    dizziness
    •    imbalance that results in falls
    •    difficulty walking or moving around in daily life
    •    inability to walk six minutes without stopping to rest
    •    inability to do things that he or she enjoys, like recreational activities or outings with family
    •    increased need for help to engage in daily activities.
  6. Don’t ignore falls. Falls after stroke are common. If a fall is serious and results in severe pain, bruising or bleeding, go to the emergency room for treatment. If a loved one experiences minor falls (with no injury) that occur more than two times within six months, see the physician or the physical therapist for treatment.
  7. Measuring progress matters. How much acute rehabilitation therapy your loved one receives depends partly on his/her rate of improvement. Stroke survivors on an acute rehabilitation unit are expected to make measurable functional gains in the activities of daily living skills, mobility skills and communication skills.
  8. A change in abilities can trigger a change in services. Medicare coverage for rehabilitation therapies may be available if your loved one’s physical function has changed. If there appears to be a change in motor skills, speech or self-care since the last time the patient was in therapy, he or she may be eligible for more services.
  9. Monitor changes in attitude and behavior. Evaluate whether your loved one is showing signs of difficulty controlling their emotions. Consult a physician to develop a plan of action.
  10. Stop depression before it hinders recovery. Post-stroke depression is common, with as many as 30–50% of stroke survivors developing depression in the early or later phases after a stroke. Post-stroke depression can significantly affect your loved one’s recovery and rehabilitation. Consult a physician to develop a plan of action.
  11. Seek out support. Community resources, such as stroke survivor and caregiver support groups, are available for you and your loved one. Stay in touch with a case manager, social worker or discharge planner who can help you find resources in your community.
  12. Learn the ins and outs of insurance coverage. Be sure to consult with your loved one’s doctor, case manager or social worker to find how much and how long insurance will pay for rehabilitation services. Rehabilitation services can vary substantially from one case to another. Clarify what medical and rehabilitation services are available for hospital and outpatient care. Determine the length of coverage provided from your insurance (private or government supported) and what out-of-pocket expenses you can expect.
  13. Know when to enlist help. If rehabilitation services are denied due to lack of “medical necessity,” ask your loved one’s physician to intervene on his or her behalf. Ask the physician to provide records to the insurance carrier and, if needed, follow up yourself by calling the insurance company.
  14. Know your rights. Your loved one has the right to access his or her medical and rehabilitation records, and is entitled to copies of the medical records, including written notes and brain imaging films.
  15. Take care of you. Take a break from caregiving by asking another family member, friend or neighbor to help while you take time for yourself. Keep balance in your life by eating right, exercising or walking daily, and getting adequate rest.
Source: The American Stroke Association (, a division of the American Heart Association, works to improve stroke prevention, diagnosis and treatment to save lives from stroke—America’s No. 3 killer and a leading cause of serious disability. For caregiver tips, tools and support, visit the American Stroke Association Family Caregiver’s webpage.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tips on How to Create a Memorable Mother’s Day Celebration for a Mom with Alzheimer’s

The holidays can be the most challenging times for families whose loved one has Alzheimer’s or a related condition. Past traditions fall by the wayside and seem to highlight all that has been lost. That’s why APFC Home Care is providing these tips to help families celebrate Mom, even as she and the family are dealing with the effects of the disease.
“The main thing to remember is that the best gift you can give your mother is your time and attention,” says Brett Summerville, Managing Partner at APFC Home Care. “Even if your mother no longer recognizes who you are, the need for human connection is still there. Just spending time with her is something she’ll appreciate.”
Here are some more tips to make sure the day is something you’ll both enjoy:
  • People with dementia typically like a routine. If you want to have a meal with her, do so at a time when she usually eats, preferably in familiar surroundings. If she has some favorite foods, take those with you. If you’re going out, make sure she is comfortable with crowds and does well in a different setting than what she’s used to.
  • Share your memories of childhood. Many people with dementia still have a degree of intact long-term memories, so reminiscing about a past you share is a good way to connect. Take along a photo album of a past trip you've taken together or some childhood events.
  • Enter her world and share her reality. If she talks about President Eisenhower, ask her what she likes about him. If she doesn't know who you are, but has memories of you, invite her to share those memories without explaining who you are.
  • Try to find an activity that the two of you can do together and be successful at, such as doing a simple jigsaw puzzle, gardening, reading a story or listening to music.
  • Good gifts are those that stimulate the senses, such as a soft blanket, scented lotions, a CD of her favorite music, or a photo of the two of you together. Take some fresh-cut flowers that the two of you can arrange in a vase together.
“The important thing is to be flexible enough to adjust to her mood and current reality,” says Summerville. “Just remember it’s her day and you’ll honor her with your care and attention.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

Osteoporosis and Aging

Bones feel solid, but the inside of a bone is actually filled with holes like a honeycomb. Bone tissues are broken down and rebuilt all the time. While some cells build new bone tissue, others dissolve bone and release the minerals inside.
As we get older, we begin to lose more bone than we build. The tiny holes within bones get bigger, and the solid outer layer becomes thinner. In other words, our bones get less dense. Hard bones turn spongy, and spongy bones turn spongier. If this loss of bone density goes too far, it’s called osteoporosis. Over 10 million people nationwide are estimated to have osteoporosis.
It’s normal for bones to break in bad accidents. But if your bones are dense enough, they should be able to stand up to most falls. Bones weakened by osteoporosis, though, are more likely to break.
“It’s just like any other engineering material,” says Dr. Joan McGowan, an expert on osteoporosis from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). If you fall and slam your weight onto a fragile bone, “it reaches a point where the structures aren’t adequate to support the weight you’re putting on them.” If the bone breaks, it’s a major hint that an older person has osteoporosis.
Broken bones can lead to serious problems for seniors. The hip is a common site for osteoporosis, and hip fractures can lead to a downward spiral of disability and loss of independence. Osteoporosis is also common in the wrist and the spine.
The hormone estrogen helps to make and rebuild bones. A woman’s estrogen levels drop after menopause, and bone loss speeds up. That’s why osteoporosis is most common among older women. But men get osteoporosis, too.
“A third of all hip fractures occur in men, yet the problem of osteoporosis in men is frequently downplayed or ignored,” says Dr. Eric Orwoll, a physician-researcher who studies osteoporosis at Oregon Health and Science University. Men tend to do worse than women after a hip fracture, Orwoll says.
Experts suggest that women start getting screened for osteoporosis at age 65. Women younger than age 65 who are at high risk for fractures should also be screened. Men should discuss screening recommendations with their health care providers.
Screening is done with a bone mineral density test at the hip and spine. The most common test is known as DXA, for dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. It’s painless, like having an X-ray. Your results are often reported as a T-score, which compares your bone density to that of a healthy young woman. A T-score of −2.5 or lower indicates osteoporosis.
There’s a lot you can do to lower your risk of osteoporosis. Getting plenty of calcium, vitamin D, and exercise is a good start, Orwoll says.
Calcium is a mineral that helps bones stay strong. It can come from the foods you eat—including milk and milk products, dark green leafy vegetables like kale and collard greens—or from dietary supplements. Women over age 50 need 1,200 mg of calcium a day. Men need 1,000 mg a day from ages 51 to 70 and 1,200 mg a day after that.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. As you grow older, your body needs more vitamin D, which is made by your skin when you’re in the sun. You can also get vitamin D from dietary supplements and from certain foods, such as milk, eggs, fatty fish, and fortified cereals. Talk with your health care provider to make sure you’re getting a healthy amount of vitamin D. Problems can arise if you’re getting too little or too much.
Exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise, helps bones, too. Weight-bearing exercises include jogging, walking, tennis, and dancing. The pull of muscles is a reminder to the cells in your bones that they need to keep the tissue dense.
Smoking, in contrast, weakens bones. Heavy drinking does too—and makes people more likely to fall. Certain drugs may also increase the risk of osteoporosis. Having family members with osteoporosis can raise your risk for the condition as well.
The good news is, even if you already have osteoporosis, it’s not too late to start taking care of your bones. Since your bones are rebuilding themselves all the time, you can help push the balance toward more bone growth by giving them exercise, calcium, and vitamin D.
Several medications can also help fight bone loss. The most widely used are bisphosphonates. These drugs are generally prescribed to people diagnosed with osteoporosis after a DXA test, or to those who’ve had a fracture that suggests their bones are too weak. Bisphosphonates have been tested more thoroughly in women, but are approved for men too.
Researchers are trying to develop drugs that increase bone growth. For now, there’s only one available: parathyroid hormone. It’s effective at building bone and is approved for women and men with osteoporosis who are at high risk for having a fracture.
Another important way to avoid broken bones is to prevent falling and occasions for fracture in the first place. Unfortunately, more than 2 million so-called fragility fractures (which wouldn’t have happened if the bones had been stronger) occur nationwide each year. “To reduce the societal burden of fracture, it’s going to take a combined approach of not only focusing on the skeleton but focusing on fall prevention,” says Dr. Kristine Ensrud, a physician-researcher who studies aging-related disorders at the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis VA Health Care System.
Many things can affect the risk for a fall, such as how good a person’s balance is and how many trip hazards are in the environment. The kind of fall matters, too. Wrist fractures often occur when a person falls forward or backward. “It’s the active older person who trips and puts her hand out,” McGowan says. Hip fractures often arise when a person falls to the side. Your hip may be strong enough to handle weight that goes up and down, but not an impact from another direction.
“That’s why exercise that builds balance and confidence is very good at preventing fractures,” McGowan says. For example, she says, tai chi won’t provide the loads needed to build bone mass, but it can increase balance and coordination—and make you more likely to catch yourself before you topple.
NIH-funded researchers are looking for better ways to tell how strong your bones are, and how high your chances are of breaking a bone. For now, though, the DXA test is the best measure, and many seniors, even older women, don’t get it, Ensrud says. If you’re concerned about your bone health, she adds, “Ask your health care provider about the possibility of a bone density test.”
Source: NIH News In Health, a publication of the National Institutes of Health. For more consumer health news, visit