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Muscle loss in elderly linked to higher risk of falls and fractures

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New research led by the University of Southampton suggests there may be a link between age-related loss of muscle mass and a greater risk of falls and fractures.

The study of sarcopenia, where muscles lose form and function with age, found that those with the condition reported higher numbers of falls in the last year and a higher prevalence of fractures.

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, sarcopenia is a disease associated with the ageing process and is characterised by loss of muscle mass and strength, which in turn affects balance, gait and overall ability to perform tasks of daily living.

There are no universally accepted criteria for diagnosing patients with sarcopenia and identifying those at risk, although diagnostic algorithms have been proposed by the European Working Group for Sarcopenia in Older People (EWGSOP), the International Working Group on Sarcopenia (IWGS) and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health Sarcopenia Project (FNIH).

There is also a wider term, dysmobility syndrome, which encompasses several factors including sarcopenia, low walking speed and osteoporosis.

The new study assessed a group of people aged between 70 and 82 using the three sarcopenia definitions, and the dysmobility syndrome criteria, to see how the different diagnoses corresponded to the occurrence of falls and fractures (during the previous year and since the age of 45).

Results published in Calcified Tissue International show that the IWGS definition identified the most cases of the condition (8.3% of the cohort) and was linked with significantly higher numbers of falls in the last year and prevalent fractures.

These associations were not apparent when using the EWGSOP diagnosis or the FNIH diagnosis (which identified only 2% as having the condition).

Dysmobilty syndrome was found to be common (affecting 24.8% of the group of older people) and corresponded to higher numbers of falls, but no increase in the fracture rate.

“The IWGS definition of sarcopenia appears to be an effective means of identifying individuals at risk of adverse musculoskeletal events, such as falls and fracture,” concluded lead author Dr. Michael Clynes from the University of Southampton´s Medical Research Council (MRC) Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit. “The findings enable us to more effectively predict those at increased risk of falls and fractures. By defining sarcopenia, health care professionals can target treatment to at-risk individuals.”