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bone density scan(1)
Posted: Friday, June 7, 2019 2:31 PM
Joined: 12/24/2016
Posts: 202

Hi all- my 80-year old mom enjoys pretty good physical health except for type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. She is in a MC facility and is considered to have "moderate" Alz. She can do most of her ADLs. Her short term memory seems to get shorter each time I see her!

Her primary care physician wants her to have a bone density scan. She had previously been diagnosed with osteopenia, but that diagnosis came from her former PCP and that was before she started to show cognitive decline. 

I am just wondering if she should have the scan? Thanks for any advice!


Rescue mom
Posted: Friday, June 7, 2019 2:45 PM
Joined: 10/12/2018
Posts: 893

I had one a few months ago, and have had others. The procedure itself is hardly anything—like getting an x-ray, they just lie down on a table, and over in less than 5 minutes.

But I have a chronic illness, and take daily meds, that can affect my bone health and density. I’m in early 60s and still active. I’m not sure why it would be needed at age 80 with dementia ..worry about broken bones? Fall risk? Higher arthritis risk? A measure for arthritis?

Not saying, just wondering what is the point, or why? But the procedure itself is about as nothing as it gets.

Posted: Friday, June 7, 2019 2:48 PM
Joined: 12/4/2011
Posts: 17174

I would ask why?
Posted: Friday, June 7, 2019 3:48 PM
Joined: 5/16/2017
Posts: 400

IMO unless you will consider medicating for osteoporosis I would not have a bone density

scan done.     Osteoporosis medications can have catastrophic side effects including jaw bone 

death + spontaneous thigh bone breakage.  Many of them (given by mouth) require adherence 

to rules after taking them that your mother will probably not remember to do.  

I cannot see risk/benefit makes sense for a LO with dementia to have a bone scan

Posted: Friday, June 7, 2019 3:55 PM
Joined: 2/2/2019
Posts: 132

Osteopenia is considered by many doctors to be a precursor to osteoporosis. Not all people diagnosed with osteopenia develop osteoporosis. A bone density scan will show whether osteoporosis is likely.

People with dementia, especially as the disease progresses, are a greater risk for falling. Falling could result in a hip fracture, or other fractures, if osteoporosis is present. Hip fractures require hospitalization. 

My DH who is in stage 6 was diagnosed with osteopenia in December. His PCP ordered a bone density scan. The procedure was quick and easy. 

Posted: Friday, June 7, 2019 5:43 PM
Joined: 10/24/2018
Posts: 366

My MIL had osteoporosis, and after (I believe; can't quite remember timeline) the first hip fracture they started treatment via infusion in her late 80's. I took her to the lab once and it looked like a hunkin big needle and really slow injection to me. Not a pleasant experience. The jawbone side effect really scared me, and I'm not sure I'd risk that for myself, much less someone 13 years my senior (your LO). But the scan itself is easier than an xray to me. The bed is padded, you get to put your knees up so no pressure on the back... go ahead and do the scan and work from there. 80 is physically the new 60..,,,,
Posted: Friday, June 7, 2019 6:37 PM
Joined: 3/8/2018
Posts: 788

The test itself is NBD, a few minutes being positioned on a table, if she can follow instructions and stay still for a short while

Before doing so, I would want to know what the doctors goal(s) is, and what his treatment plan would be if it came back with more changes (and specifically where the osteopenia is...spine, wrist or hip?)

IMHO I wouldn’t have her do the test, but if she can tolerate more calcium and vitamin D, that’s a good approach. Big “no” to the osteo meds, too scary

Posted: Friday, June 7, 2019 6:50 PM
Joined: 3/6/2017
Posts: 1642

What can you/would you do with the information from the test?

Posted: Monday, June 10, 2019 12:08 PM
Joined: 2/16/2019
Posts: 66

Medicare covers bone density scans every two years. If there is a facility near you and she is comfortable with going, the test is, as someone said, not a big deal. It might motivate things other than medications. There are even pads people can wear around their hips!And getting rid of clutter, doing activities that increase balance, paying attention to diet and so on can all be of help. Is your mother prone to falling? It might also motivate the facility to take care on this front.

That said, we decline tests all the time. My mother has "age-related" osteoporosis and hasn't had a scan in a long time. If your mom had osteopenia last time, any osteoporosis would not be terribly advanced, I would think.


Posted: Monday, June 10, 2019 3:26 PM
Joined: 12/24/2016
Posts: 202

Thank you, all, for your replies! I think that your comments echo my questions. What would I do with the information if I found out that she had osteoporosis? I have early-onset osteoporosis, so I have done a lot of research for myself about medicines to help reverse bone loss. 

Bottom line is that I do not want to add yet one more medicine to her cocktail of meds that she already takes, particularly one that can have such awful side effects. 

But, as you pointed out, the procedure itself is not difficult and I know that she could tolerate it. So, perhaps there are other interventions that can reduce her fall risk if she does, indeed, have osteoporosis.


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