Older Men Less Likely to Be Screened for Osteoporosis

By Pat Anson, Editor

Elderly men are far less likely to be screened for osteoporosis or to take preventive measures against the bone-thinning disease than women, according to the results of a new study.

"We were surprised at how big a difference we found between men and women regarding osteoporosis," said Irina Dashkova, MD, lead author of the study, which is being presented at The American Geriatrics Society's annual meeting in Washington, DC. "In our environment, you just get this perception that osteoporosis is a women's problem. This has to be changed, and the sooner the better.

More than 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis, which raises their risk for serious bone fractures.  About 2 million are men -- and another 8 to 13 million men have low bone mineral density, a precursor to osteoporosis. Previous studies have found that 13% of white men over the age og 50 will experience at least one osteoporosis-related fracture during their lifetime.

“We know from research that when men suffer fractures, their mortality is higher than in women and that severe medical consequences and loss of independence are much more prevalent in men,” said Dashkova.

The risk of death after sustaining a hip fracture is twice as high in men compared to women, and loss of independence is also more common in males. Some medical conditions and drugs that can raise the risk of osteoporosis are male-specific, such as prostate cancer drugs that affect the production of testosterone.

Dashkova and her colleagues at North Shore-LIJ Health System surveyed 146 older men and women in New York and Florida and found “stunning” gender differences in attitudes and beliefs about osteoporosis:

  • Women were far more likely to report a family history of osteoporosis (nearly 91% compared to 9%)
  • Most women would accept osteoporosis screening, while less than 25% of men would
  • Women were 4 times more likely to take preventive measures against osteoporosis, such as taking calcium and vitamin D supplements

Part of the problem may be that healthcare providers aren't encouraging men to undergo screening as often as they should.

"Our survey clearly establishes that physicians are just not thinking of screening men. It's only when older men fall and break their hip that someone thinks maybe we should do something to prevent them breaking the other hip," said Gisele Wolf-Klein, MD, director of geriatric education for the North Shore-LIJ Health System. "Not only is society in general unaware of the problem of osteoporosis in men, men are not seeking screening and diagnosis.

"The average age in my practice is in the 90s, and our patients are to be congratulated because clearly they're doing something right. But we have a duty to make sure those later years are as happy and productive as can be and not spent in a wheelchair."