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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 07 | April 5, 2001

Research team sets to work on healthier bones

Program takes holistic approach with high risk group

by Hilary Thomson staff writer

Sticks and stones can break your bones and so can stumbles and falls if you are a senior with poor bone strength.

Investigators at UBC and B.C. Women's Hospital and Health Centre in disciplines that include medicine, human kinetics, physiotherapy and bioengineering aim to prevent fractures in elderly people at high risk of falls.

"There's no way one person can pull this off," says Asst. Prof. Karim Khan of the Dept. of Family Practice and the School of Human Kinetics.

"We've combined the expertise of researchers who have a substantial collective understanding of bone health issues."

Called Fracture-Free B.C., the research program sees Assoc. Prof. Heather McKay of the School of Human Kinetics, Asst. Prof. Janice Eng of the School of Rehabilitation Sciences and Tom Oxland, associate professor of Orthopedics, working with Khan in a four-year program that looks at both preventing falls and building bone strength.

Working in the lab and in the community, investigators plan to study 300 women aged 75 years and older who are at high risk for falls and fractures.

"Ours is the first prevention research program to work with such a high-risk group and take a holistic view of this health problem," says Khan.

Risk factors for falls include muscle weakness, joint stiffness, blood pressure or vision problems, medications that impair balance such as sedatives and indoor and outdoor environmental hazards.

Fracture risks include osteoporosis -- a bone disease characterized by low bone density and deterioration of bone tissue that leads to increased bone fragility and risk of breaking.

The team was recently funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation for equipment valued at more than $400,000 that will help them test balance and measure bone strength.

Starting next year, women identified in co-operation with B.C. Women's Hospital and Health Centre will be referred for testing at the UBC Bone Health Laboratory in the School of Human Kinetics.

Physiotherapists will provide participants with home instruction on exercise. Occupational therapists will offer tips in making the home fall-proof.

In addition, family practice physicians will be involved in minimizing the use of medications associated with falling.

Fractures in elderly patients are associated with enormous direct financial costs, says Khan, as well as immeasurable physical and emotional burdens.

In Canada, the annual cost of treatment for hip fractures alone is $280 million with nearly 25,000 osteoporosis-related hip fractures, many of which are the result of falls, according to a recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

As baby boomers age, caring for fractures in elderly people represents an enormous economic burden, says Khan.

"There is no single magic bullet for bone health and we can't undo fractures," he says. "We're fighting a war against physical inactivity and a lifespan approach to better bone health is a powerful weapon."

If the study shows prevention activities to be valuable, researchers aim to expand the program to include all seniors at risk.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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