General Health Article:

Men and women have special health needs as they age

As men and women age, they face special concerns when it comes to gender-related health problems. Understanding these specific issues - and being open about discussing them with your physician - can prevent disease and extend the lives of older adults.

One of the most common conditions affecting men as they age is enlargement of the prostate gland, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Among older women, a loss of bone density, or osteoporosis, is a particular concern.

The Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of 35 Puget Sound not-for-profit and public organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults, offers these tips for seniors to help them understand these conditions.

Though the prostate continues to grow during most of a man's life, enlargement of the gland doesn't usually cause problems until late in life. An enlarged prostate can cause symptoms ranging from frequent urination to an inability to urinate, which can result in serious urinary tract infections.

BPH rarely causes symptoms before age 40, but more than half of men in their 60s and as many as 90 percent in their 70s and 80s have some symptoms of BPH. As life expectancy rises, so does the occurrence of BPH. In the United States alone, 375,000 hospital stays each year involve a diagnosis of BPH.

It is not clear whether certain groups face a greater risk of getting BPH. Studies done over the years suggest that BPH occurs more often among married men than single men and is more common in the United States and Europe than in other parts of the world.

Men who have BPH usually need some kind of treatment at some time. Antibiotics may be prescribed to deal with infection before specific medications are used to treat BPH. In addition to drug therapy, several different out-patient procedures are available to shrink the prostate. In more serious cases, surgery removes the enlarged part of the gland. Annual check-ups for men beginning at age 50 can help in early detection of BPH as well as prostate cancer.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 10 million Americans - 80 to 90 percent of them women - suffer from osteoporosis, a weakening and thinning of the bones through bone loss. Fractures caused by osteoporosis are more common in women than heart attacks, strokes and breast cancer combined.

Although anyone may develop bone density problems, Caucasians and Asians who do not eat a lot of soy are at increased risk, especially if they are short or slender. Smoking, excessive alcohol intake, sedentary lifestyle and genetics (family members with osteoporosis) are risk factors.

Proper diet and exercise can help prevent osteoporosis. Older women need even more calcium than younger women - 1,500 milligrams a day. Vitamin D (800 IU per day) and magnesium (600mg) are also recommended to help fight osteoporosis. Dietary sources of calcium include milk and yogurt, broccoli, collards, bok choy, kale, sardines and tofu.

Exercise also is essential to build strong bones. Even moderate physical activity, such as walking, can improve bone health and help prevent osteoporosis.

If you have questions about your health or any other issue related to life as an older adult, call the Healthy Aging Partnership's free and confidential information and assistance line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464). HAP is generously supported by its partner agencies, Public Health Seattle & King County and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.