News & Notes
Preventing the burdens of osteoporosis
U.S. Census projections indicate that by 2050, the population of adults age 65 and older will nearly double to almost 83 million, up from about 43 million in 2012. This “graying” of America will soon result in some staggering statistics when it comes to osteoporosis, a condition characterized by decreased bone mass and bone density that primarily impacts older women. By 2025, for example, the annual number of “fragility fractures” in adults caused by osteoporosis is projected to exceed 3 million, and will cost the American healthcare system about $25 billion per year.
But the burdens of osteoporosis extend far beyond financial concerns. Fragility fractures often lead to a rapidly declining quality of life, decreased mobility and, in some cases, death. Hip fractures are especially devastating – statistics show that less than half of seniors who survive a hip fracture will ever walk unaided again, most will require assistance with basic activities, and between 10 and 20 percent will need to move into care homes during the following year.
The best ways to combat osteoporosis are prevention – which is possible in many cases – timely screening, and proper treatment. During National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month in May, older adults are encouraged to understand the risk factors for osteoporosis, know when to be screened for it and learn how to keep fragility fractures from occurring whenever possible.
Basic measures every adult can take to promote healthy bones include getting sufficient dietary calcium; achieving adequate levels of vitamin D through a nutritious diet and exposure to sunlight; and getting regular weight-bearing exercise, like brisk walking, jogging and weight-lifting. Avoiding smoking, and only drinking in moderation also help to reduce the risk.
Screening for osteoporosis is called bone density testing, and is done using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry [DEXA] technology. The recommended age at which to begin screening depends on a variety of factors, including body weight, age at menopause, past fractures and other variables which should be discussed with one’s primary care doctor. Bone density results are reported using a “T-score,” which indicates how one’s bone density compares to that of a healthy 30-year-old adult. Lower T-scores mean lower bone density; a T-score of -2.5 or lower is a diagnosis of osteoporosis.
Over the past 25 years, a broad range of pharmaceutical options have become available to treat osteoporosis and its precursor, which is called osteopenia. These medicines, which can significantly reduce an older person’s risk of a fragility fracture, are available in a variety of ways, which include daily, weekly or monthly oral tablets; periodic injections; or annual infusions.
Turning away from technology
It’s widely believed that older people spend less time online and use fewer digital technologies than their younger counterparts. While this has in fact been proven true, many seniors shun technology for different reasons than commonly thought, according to a recent study.
Through interviews with older adults, researchers from Lancaster University in the U.K. found that the “digital divide” between young and old is not due to lack of access to technology, as many have assumed. Most of those surveyed did use the internet, and also have previously used and/or currently own computers. Instead, a sense of social responsibility may be a more important reason behind older people’s rejection of technology. For example, those interviewed expressed a common belief that online shopping takes business away from brick-and-mortar retailers, causing people to lose their jobs. Some also expressed a distaste for social media, because they said it leads to societal problems like cyberbullying and social isolation.
Fear of making mistakes online and compromising their personal security were other major issues causing older people to turn away from technology, the survey found. Many said they lacked confidence in their own knowledge of how to use online tools properly, particularly online banking, and expressed concern that their personal information could be exposed or stolen.
The researchers also found some older people use their age as a “cover” for these and other personal reasons not to engage with technology. The study’s authors referred to this as “playing the age card,” where seniors blame their age for shying away from digital technologies. “Doing so allows older adults a privilege not available to most working-age adults, to take personal stands against the aspects of technology they find worrying, threatening or just plain annoying,” they wrote. The study was published in Communications of the ACM.
Fitter body, fitter brain
Adding to the already compelling evidence in favor of women making physical fitness a top priority as they age, newly published research found that women who were “highly fit” at midlife were a whopping 88-percent less likely to develop dementia at older ages than those who didn’t exercise as vigorously. When the women in the highly fit study group did develop dementia, the onset of disease happened an average of 11 years later than women who were moderately fit [age 90 vs. age 79].
The study included 191 Swedish women, with an average age of 50, who were given a bicycle test to measure their cardiovascular fitness, and were placed into categories of high, medium and low fitness. Over the next 44 years, the women were tested for dementia at six intervals. During that time, just 5 percent of the highly fit women developed dementia, compared to 25 percent of moderately fit women and 32 percent of the women with low fitness. Among a subgroup of the low-fitness women whose initial fitness tests had to be stopped due to chest pain or other problems, 45 percent developed dementia decades later.
“These findings are exciting because it’s possible that improving people’s cardiovascular fitness in middle age could delay or even prevent them from developing dementia,” said study author Helena Hörder, Ph.D., of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
On the calendar
Free bone density screenings for women are offered on Saturday, May 12 from 2-4 p.m. at the Kathryn Linneman Branch Library, 2323 Elm St. in St. Charles, in Meeting Room A. Learn your personal risk for osteoporosis and get information about what you can do to reduce your risk of fractures. The event is presented in partnership with Barnes-Jewish St. Peters and Progress West Hospitals. To register, call (636) 928-9355.
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An AARP Smart Driver Course is on Monday, May 14 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters, in Conference Room 108-A of Medical Office Building 1. An AARP-certified instructor will provide tips to tune up your driving skills and update your knowledge of the rules of the road. The cost is $15 for AARP members and $20 for non-members. To register, visit www.bjcstcharlescounty.org/events.