Fractures and mobility in an ageing population


24 February 2012

One of the greatest challenges facing healthcare, and society in general, is developing new treatments and solutions for our ageing population. In fact, this is of such importance that 2012 has been designated as the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations.

The European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations has four main aims:

  • To promote active ageing in employment
  • To promote active ageing in the community through volunteering and caring
  • To promote healthy ageing and independent living
  • To enhance solidarity between generations in order to create a society for all ages.

As people live longer, the impact on every area of human existence is huge. The challenge for politicians and stakeholders is to improve opportunities for active ageing in general and for living independently, acting in areas as diverse as employment, health care, social services, adult learning, volunteering, housing, IT services or transport. One of the areas of concern currently being explored by researchers at the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing (ARCHA) at Aston University how best to tackle falls, fractures and mobility in an ageing population.

ARCHA’s Dr Richard Martin explains: “Older adults are more likely to suffer falls, unfortunately they are also more likely to suffer breakages during these falls due to weaker and lower density bones. This can have a significant impact on their health and mobility. Reduced mobility can in turn then have a deleterious effect on their independence making even the most basic on tasks such as bathing or food shopping challenging or impossible.”

In later life our bodies ability to repair and regenerate significant reduces and tissues in elderly people are particularly slow to heal due to a lack of active cells. Bones are less likely to heal in older adults due to this reduced cellular activity; they are therefore more likely to require surgical intervention. Effective implant biomaterials can significantly improve the quality of life of elderly patients in later years though reduced hospital stays, increased mobility and independence.

ARCHA researchers are looking at ways of developing and optimising bioactive implants that can help bones heal and regenerate. Dr Richard Martin explains: “Bioactive glasses are being manufactured which contain large quantities of calcium and phosphorous which are the two elements required to form bone mineral. The composition of these glasses is specifically tailored to ensure they slowly dissolve when placed inside the body releasing the essential building blocks (calcium and phosphorous) which help stimulate new bone growth within the body.”

The team is also looking at ways of reducing the probability of acquiring surgical site infections, such as MRSA, which can sometimes occur during surgery. A range of antimicrobial elements are being incorporated into these bioactive glasses and their properties are being tested against a series of clinically relevant microbes such as MRSA.

Avoiding Falls and Fractures

Research has shown that by undertaking a few simple lifestyle changes the probability of falls and fractures can be significantly reduced:

  • Diet: A healthy diet including sufficient calcium and vitamin D is essential to maintain healthy bones – the body contains approximately 1Kg of calcium of which 99% is located within bones.

  • Exercise: Exercise can help improve balance and coordination and reduce the probability of falling. Furthermore weight bearing exercises (such as jogging, dancing, tennis) can help strengthen bones and reduce the probability of fractures. Before starting an exercise routine you should contact your GP.

  • Weight: Maintaining a healthy weight will reduce the probability of falling and resultant fractures.

  • Eyesight: Age related macular degeneration and glaucoma can significantly increase the probability of falling. It is therefore particularly important that older adults have regular eye tests.

  • Trip hazards: Simple things like ensuring there are no loose carpets on rugs, no trailing wires and providing adequate lighting can reduce the risk of falls.

  • Smoking and drinking: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption have both been linked with osteoporosis. Therefore stopping smoking and moderation of alcohol intake are commonly recommended in the prevention of osteoporosis.

Find out more about the work of the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing.

A brochure detailing all active ageing related funding schemes is available from