Senior Health

10/19/2021 | By Terri L. Jones

When should you be concerned about your bones? We look at bone density scan recommendations by age as well as a happenstance that makes a fracture more likely.

If you break a bone due to a minor accident like tripping on a loose rug or lifting a heavy object, your physician will likely order a bone density test. That’s not usually the case when you break a bone in a major accident like a car crash or a fall from a ladder. The conventional wisdom in the medical community is that these fractures are to be expected and typically don’t point to weakened bones. After a high-trauma break, you’ll often be treated without further investigation and then sent on your way … sometimes to break something else down the road!

No fracture should be ignored.

There’s growing evidence that anytime a post-menopausal woman or man over 70 breaks a bone – no matter what the cause – it’s a red flag. Consider a recent study published by JAMA Internal Medicine. For eight years, the study followed a group of 7,000+ postmenopausal women (many in their 50s and 60s) who had sustained a fracture. As expected, those women who had broken a bone in a minor accident had a 52 percent greater risk of recurrence, but even those women who had experienced a fracture in a traumatic accident were 25 percent more likely to break another bone compared to their peers who hadn’t experienced that first fracture.

According to Dr. Carolyn J. Crandall, an internal medicine physician at U.C.L.A.’s David Geffen School of Medicine, who led the JAMA Internal Medicine study, the same goes for older men. Recent studies have shown that men who have experienced a high-trauma fracture were similarly at risk for a later fracture.

Forewarned is forearmed

If your physician doesn’t recommend a bone density test after you break a bone, be proactive and request one. This quick and easy X-ray, called a DEXA scan, measures the mineral content of your spine, hips, and sometimes the forearm and determines if you have reduced bone mass – osteopenia or even osteoporosis.

Bone Density Scan Recommendations by age

Women over 65 (in your 50s, for those who are at high risk) and men over 70 should undergo a bone density screening, even if they’ve never had a fracture. That’s because osteoporosis is a silent disease. While more than 50 percent of women and 18 percent of men over the age of 50 have reduced bone mineral density, many don’t know it until they have a fracture, and this condition doubles the risk of a hip fracture. However, bone density screenings can lower fracture risk by 36 percent, according to one Johns Hopkins study. Researchers believe that the reason for this is that screenings can uncover thinning bones in time for treatment.

Next steps

Treatment for abnormally weakened bones usually includes medication to slow, stop, or even reverse the process. Just as important as medication is a well-balanced diet with sufficient calcium and vitamin D (if you’re not getting enough of these nutrients in the foods you eat, your doctor may recommend supplements). Strength and weight-bearing exercise is also critical as well as limiting your alcohol and caffeine consumption and cutting out smoking.

Be sure to follow bone density scan recommendations. A DEXA scan could change the trajectory of your life. If your bones are weakened, you can seek treatment, adjust your diet and exercise, and take all the appropriate measures to minimize your risk of fractures.

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones