The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the global number of people living to 85 and older will increase by 351% in the next 40 years (1). The consequence of this increase in the number of elderly people is an increase in the number of people suffering from chronic health problems such as osteoporosis, heart failure, and dementias. In a series of articles over the next days we will look at the future of health. In the first of these articles we will look at the prevalence, meaning the number of cases in a population, of people at risk for bone fractures.
In a recent article published in the professional journal Osteoporosis International, researchers estimated, based on data from 2010, that 158 million people worldwide, over the age of 50, are at high risk for bone fractures. Furthermore, they estimate that this number will double by 2040.
In young people bone fractures typically heal fast and do not result in permanent impairment. Elderly people are at higher risk for bone fractures because their bones start to lose strength, and when this loss of strength reaches a level that is severe enough it is labeled as osteoporosis. But even elderly people who do not suffer from osteoporosis can have permanent disability from bone fractures, especially from hip fractures. One famous example is Jeanne Calment, the oldest person ever, who lived independently and even made regular bicycle trips at the age of 115 until she broke her hip and had to move to a nursing home.
Osteoporosis and bone fractures in the elderly greatly contribute to disability. It has been estimated that there were 4.48 million people worldwide who suffered from disability as a consequence of bone fractures in 1990. Moreover 1.75% of the total burden of disease in Europe is caused by osteoporotic bone fractures (2), and the annual cost of osteoporosis in the US is estimated at 17 to 20 billion dollars (3). The European Union has now identified fall prevention as a “low-hanging fruit” that could currently be implemented to improve health of the elderly.
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- World Health Organization (2014). 10 Facts on Ageing and the Life Course. Available at www.who.int/features/factfiles/ageing/en.
- Johnell O, Kanis JA (2006). An estimate of the worldwide prevalence and disability associated with osteoporotic fractures. Osteoporos Int 17: 1726-1733.
- Becker DJ, Kilgore ML, and Morrisey MA (2010). The societal burden of osteoporosis. Curr Rheumatol Rep 12(3): 186-191.