Older patients experience injury, disease, and trauma differently than their younger counterparts. This leads to different diagnostic practices, risks, and standards of care.  If you or someone you love is a senior citizen, it’s important to know the differences between each type of diagnostic radiology, how they can help, and what potential risks may arise. 


An X-Ray may be the most efficient first line of defense when it comes to bone injury. Using radiation, this diagnostic tool can identify fractures, injury, and abnormalities in the skeleton and teeth. An X-ray may be used first in diagnosing a patient who has had a fall.

For identifying more subtle fractures or closely viewing softer internal tissue, other forms of radiology may be in order.


MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. It is used to help diagnose a disease or shed further light on the extent of an injury without invasive surgery that may be more traumatic and require longer recovery time for older patients. 

MRI is the most commonly used form of medical imaging to look at the brain and spinal cord, which can be particularly helpful after any kind of fall or head trauma. Your doctor may also use it to monitor symptoms following a stroke. 

When needed, an MRI can also be used to examine other parts of the body, including:

  • Heart
  • Prostate 
  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Eye & Inner ear
  • Pancreas

Exercising MRI Caution

Because of the radio and magnetic waves used during an MRI — as well as the possible need for contrast dye injection — it’s important to exercise caution around this form of radiology for older patients. Those with implantable devices (such as heart defibrillators), or impaired renal function should be especially careful and informed about the risks. 

Bone Density Scanning 

A bone density test is used to identify signs of osteoporosis before any bone fractures occur. It implements low-dose, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA) to measure the amount of bone in your hip, spine and larger bones. The results will help you and your doctor create a plan for strengthening and protecting this very important internal support structure. 

Women ages 65 and older, men ages 70 and older, and anyone who has broken a bone over the age of 50 are among some of the recommended candidates for this preventative test. 

CT Scanning

In some instances, CT scans may provide even more comprehensive images than MRIs. Using multiple X-rays, a CT scanner travels over the body in an arc, emitting a series of beams through the body. The images are then assembled into a three-dimensional cross section via computer, revealing hundreds of different density levels. 

Because of this in-depth imaging, CT scans may more adeptly identify certain cancers (liver, lung, pancreatic), as well as pneumonia, organ tear or injury, and bleeding in the brain. They also more clearly identify issues with the lungs, heart, and other organs in the chest. 

Though you may have heard some express fear around the radiation levels of CT scans, according to a report in the Radiological Society of North America’s RadioGraphics, “there is less concern about risk for cancer with use of ionizing radiation in this age group, [and] CT is the primary imaging modality used in the setting of geriatric trauma.” 

Communication & Care

Each method of imaging is unique, just as each individual patient has his or her own unique needs and concerns. It is important to have clear communication with your doctor, surgeon, and imaging technologists about your health history, current medications, and any other physical, mental, or emotional conditions that may help improve the quality of care and type of imaging you receive. If and when possible, you may consider bringing a friend, family member, or caregiver along, just to help you and the medical professionals at your aid make the process as comfortable as possible.

At Cardinal Points Imaging, we are dedicated to providing state-of-the-art outpatient imaging services. Learn more about our services online, or call for an appointment at (919) 877-5400. We know that imaging plays a key role in the diagnosis and treatment of many health issues and is also a crucial part of screening for early detection of health conditions — at any age.