Healthy Aging

Starting an osteoporosis drug? Here’s what you need to know

Maneet Kaur, MD
Maneet Kaur, MD, Contributor

In its early stages, osteoporosis has no symptoms but causes millions of bone fractures every year, often resulting in loss of function and, disability and even death from the complications of the fracture. There are effective medications to prevent osteoporosis, but they can have serious (though rare) side effects. It’s best to talk discuss with your doctor to understand all your options and make an informed decision on how to best protect your bones.

A twist on the genetic link between Alzheimer’s and heart disease

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Although the two conditions seem unrelated, Alzheimer’s and heart disease actually share a genetic link. People who have a certain gene variant have both a somewhat elevated heart disease risk and a significantly elevated Alzheimer’s risk. Fortunately, a recent study has suggested that when people know they have this variant, they’re more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices that benefit their heart — and what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Medical alert systems: In vogue, and for some, invaluable

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Medical alert devices can be a lifesaver — literally — if you suffer a fall. But not all medical devices are created equal. Here, we’ve listed the most common types and described the pros and cons of each, as well as the important things to consider when deciding which type to purchase.

Can a heartburn drug cause cognitive problems?

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Many older adults take PPIs to treat heartburn, GERD, or stomach ulcers. Recently, a new study identified a link between chronic PPI use and an increased risk for dementia. If you take a PPI, check in with your doctor — you may be able to take it only when you have symptoms, not continuously (and this kind of usage was not associated with a dramatically increased dementia risk in the study).

My fall last fall: Reaction time and getting older

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Being able to react to a fall — throwing out a hand, grabbing a railing — often makes the fall less serious. But our reaction times slow as we age, making this kind of quick adjustment much harder as we get older. We’ve examined some of the biological reasons why falling becomes more serious as we age and some ways to make falling less likely — including the possibility of improving slowed reaction times.

Decline in dementia rate offers “cautious hope”

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Last year, the Alzheimer’s Association predicted that rates of dementia would continue to rise. However, a report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that rates of dementia have actually dropped steadily over the past three decades. Whether the drop in rates applies to everyone, and whether it will continue, remain to be seen. But the evidence also confirms that there’s quite a lot you can do to lower your dementia risk.

Vitamin D and physical function: Is more better?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Much has been promised about the potential health benefits of vitamin D, but the evidence behind many of these promises is lacking. In fact, a recent study that tested whether vitamin D supplements protected older people from physical decline found that those on higher doses were more likely to have a fall. It’s important to get enough vitamin D in your diet. But when it comes to supplements, more is not always better.

A stronger heart may keep your brain young

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Regular exercise offers a wealth of benefits for your body — and recent studies have confirmed that people who are physically fit have fitter brains, too. In fact, an active person’s brain can effectively be up to seven years “younger” than the brain of someone who doesn’t exercise! Fortunately, shaping up your brain is as easy as shaping up the rest of your body — a little activity goes a long way.

Don’t shrug off shingles

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Shingles, an itchy and painful rash that occurs when the chickenpox virus reactivates in your body, shouldn’t be written off as just a nuisance. If it’s not treated promptly with an antiviral drug, it can cause a host of serious long-term complications. Fortunately, there’s a vaccine that can slash your risk of shingles by half, and another, even more effective one in the pipeline.

Does fewer PSA tests mean less prostate cancer?

Charlie Schmidt
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease

Fewer men are being given PSA tests to screen for prostate cancer. As screening rates have fallen, so have the number of prostate cancer diagnoses. This probably also means that fewer men are receiving potentially unnecessary treatment, with its attendant negative side effects. At the same time, it isn’t yet clear whether that comes at the cost of more aggressive cancers being caught at an incurable stage. Better screening tests may make the difference in helping strike the right balance between limiting harm and preventing prostate cancer deaths.