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Standard muscle loss definition 'may help cut falls risk in elderly'

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Older people diagnosed as having an age-related loss of muscle mass and strength may be at greater risk of falling and bone fractures, according to UK researchers.

A study into sarcopenia – loss of muscle form and function with age – found those with the condition reported higher numbers of falls in the last year and a higher prevalence of fractures.

“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”

Michael Clynes

The decline in muscle mass between the ages of 40 and 80 has been estimated to be 30-60% and is associated with disability, sickness and death.

However, the study authors said there were no universally accepted criteria with which to diagnose patients with sarcopenia and identify those at risk.

Three different systems have previously been used, as well as a wider term – “dysmobility syndrome” – that encompasses several factors, including sarcopenia, along with low walking speed and osteoporosis.

Dr Michael Clynes, lead study author from Southampton University, said: “Due to these differences, an individual may receive different diagnosis depending on how he or she is assessed.”

The researchers, from the UK, the US and New Zealand, assessed a group aged 70-82 using the three sarcopenia definitions, along with the dysmobility syndrome criteria, to see how the different diagnoses corresponded to the occurrence of falls and factures.

The study found that the definition proposed by the International Working Group on Sarcopenia (IWGS) identified the most cases of the condition (8.3%) and was linked with significantly higher numbers of falls in the last year and prevalent fractures.

“The findings enable us to more effectively predict those at increased risk of falls and fractures. By defining sarcopenia, healthcare professionals can target treatment to at-risk individuals”

Michael Clynes

This compared with the European Working Group for Sarcopenia in Older People which diagnosed 3.3% cases and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health Sarcopenia Project that managed just 2%.

Dysmobilty syndrome was common – affecting 24.8% – and corresponded to higher numbers of falls, but no increase in the fracture rate, said the study authors in the journal Calcified Tissue International.

“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,” said Dr Clynes.

“The findings enable us to more effectively predict those at increased risk of falls and fractures. By defining sarcopenia, healthcare professionals can target treatment to at-risk individuals,” he added.

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