New tool to measure bone age may save lives

Bone age

Would you like to know if your bone health increases your risk of mortality?

A new tool to measure bone age may provide the breakthrough needed to improve osteoporosis treatment to prevent fractures and lower the risk of premature death.

Scientists from the University of Technology Sydney developed the tool to estimate a patient’s bone age and the level at which a fracture may lead to premature death.

The discovery was made in a study called Skeletal Age for Mapping the Impact of Fracture on Mortality, which was recently published in the scientific journal eLife.

The authors aimed to explore how the risk of a fracture increased the risk of mortality, and how to communicate that risk to patients.

According to UTS professor and study co-author Tuan Nguyen, patients who have fractured a hip face an increased risk of premature death. Around 30 per cent of these patients pass away within a year following a fracture.

Premature death

The risk of premature death also increases with other types of fractures.

“Despite the fact that a bone fracture can significantly shorten an individual’s lifespan, patients who experience such fractures often lack a complete understanding of this reality,” Prof. Nguyen said.

The study found that one fracture could mean losing up to seven years of life, depending on gender, age and fracture site. 

Based on this finding, the authors proposed the idea of “skeletal age” to measure the effect of a fracture on life expectancy.

“Skeletal age is the sum of the chronological age of a patient and the estimated number of years of life lost following a fracture,” the study states.

“For example, a 60-year-old man with a hip fracture is predicted to lose an estimated six years of life, resulting in a skeletal age of around 66. 

“Therefore, this individual has the same life expectancy as a 66-year-old person who has not experienced a fracture.”

Fracture risks

The skeletal age measurement aims to offer a clearer picture of the risks linked to fractures by outlining the average decrease in life expectancy.

“By enhancing awareness regarding these risks, both medical practitioners and patients are more likely to undertake preventive measures aimed at mitigating the chances of untimely mortality,” Prof. Nguyen said.

Study co-author Dr Thach Tran said that at the moment communication between doctors and patients about fracture risk relied on probability.

“The skeletal age tool presents an alternative method of conveying fracture risk information to patients,” Dr Tran says. 

“Instead of informing a 60-year-old woman that her risk of death after a hip fracture is 5 per cent, she can be informed that her skeletal age is 65,” explained Dr Tran.

Prof. Nguyen says the skeletal age tool is a major breakthrough in preventing premature death associated with osteoporosis.

“With this new tool, doctors and patients can work together to reduce the risk of bone fractures and ensure better bone health for all.”

The study authors are also developing an online tool called to allow health professionals and the public to quickly calculate skeletal age.

Treating osteoporosis

Skeletal age can also be used to support the benefit of osteoporosis treatments. Some treatments substantially reduce the likelihood of post-fracture death and translating this into skeletal age could help communication with patients. 

For instance, telling patients that the treatment will reduce their skeletal age by two years is easier to understand than telling them it will reduce their risk of death by 25 per cent.

The study used data from the Danish National Hospital Discharge Register, which includes almost 1.8 million Danes born on or before 1950.

The study found that at a screening in 2016, there had been 307,870 fractures and 1222,744 post-fracture deaths.

Are you concerned about fractures? Would you like to know your bone age? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Simple paper test could offer early cancer diagnosis

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

Leave a Reply

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings

One Comment

  1. I have had osteoporosis for many years. I unknowingly fractured my thorassic spine I think when I stretched my arms behind my back.The pain started soon after. I never went to the doctor, but spent a week in extreme pain, did very little but sit around and take painkillers. The pain eventually lessened. The fracture was discovered later when I had a bone density scan. The problem i have now is that I get a very painful back if I am on my feet too long, so I have to be sensible and take a rest if it’s really sore.I am doing all the things as advised by my doctor, lots of dairy, vitamin d supplements, and will soon start Prolia injections again.I did start a special exercise program for those with osteoporosis, but gave that up when another health problem arose. I should probably do more exercise which is suggested the help osteoporosis, like weightbearing exercise, motivation and cost is the issue though.

Superannuation performance stays strong in April

woman laughing

Friday Funnies: It’s all in a name