Aged Care Research

Simple question about walking may predict fracture risk

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New research suggests that a simple question about walking ability could help clinicians predict fracture risk among older adults.

Published in JAMA Network Open, the findings come from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research. They found adults who reported trouble walking even short distances had a significantly higher likelihood of experiencing a fracture over the next five years.

“We’ve discovered that trouble walking even short distances appears closely tied to higher fracture risk over the following five years,” said lead author Professor Jacqueline Center, Head of Garvan’s Clinical Studies and Epidemiology Lab. “Just a few simple questions about how far someone can walk could give doctors an early warning sign to check bone health.”

The study examined data on nearly 267,000 Australian adults aged 45+ participating in the Sax Institute’s ongoing 45 and Up Study. Participants were asked whether health issues limited their ability to walk various distances. One in five reported some walking limitation initially. Those with more difficulty walking had markedly higher subsequent fracture rates – for instance, 60% higher in women very limited in walking 1km.

“We saw a clear ‘dose-response’ pattern, where greater walking limitation meant higher fracture risk,” said first author Dr Dana Bliuc. “This suggests a direct relationship between low mobility and weaker bones.”

Approximately 60% of all fractures were attributable to some level of walking limitation. This link remained after accounting for other risk factors like age and prior fractures.

Given the prevalence of walking limitations, the researchers believe this simple assessment could significantly boost bone density screening rates and facilitate preventative treatment for those at risk.

“Asking about walking ability takes just seconds and could be a free, non-invasive way to tell if someone needs their bones checked,” said Professor Center.

So if you have trouble walking a full kilometre, it may be wise to ask your doctor about getting a bone strength test. Early intervention could help avoid a preventable fracture.

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