Study Links Unexplained Weight Loss in Older Adults to Higher Fracture Risk


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Recent study suggests that unexplained weight loss among older adults may be indicative of underlying diseases, posing an elevated risk of fractures, falls, and a grim prognosis over an extended period. Dr. Cassandra Smith, a postdoctoral research fellow at Edith Cowan University (ECU), led the research, highlighting the correlation between rapid weight loss and abdominal aortic calcification (AAC), a marker of severe blood vessel disease, in 929 older women.

Over a comprehensive five-year observation, rapid weight loss, defined as a drop exceeding five percent of body weight within any 12-month period, was associated with a 49 percent increased risk of mortality in the subsequent 9.5 years. For women experiencing a rapid weight loss of over 10 percent within a 12-month span, this risk surged to a substantial 87 percent.

Among the participants, 39.4 percent exhibited rapid weight loss during the observational period. Dr. Smith emphasized that such weight loss in older women could signal adverse outcomes, including early institutionalization, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and an augmented susceptibility to falls and fractures.

Examining women with moderate to extensive AAC, the study found a 36 percent and 58 percent higher likelihood of rapid weight loss over five years. Even after adjusting for dietary factors, blood pressure, and cholesterol, the results persisted. Intriguingly, the link between AAC and rapid weight loss persisted in women adhering to protein energy and physical activity recommendations.

The study’s author, Dr. Smith, acknowledged the unclear explanations for the relationship between AAC and rapid weight loss, hypothesizing that AAC might impede blood flow to the gut, affecting nutrient absorption.

Dr. Smith stated, “This has the potential to change how we treat those older individuals who present with rapid weight loss,” suggesting a shift from conventional approaches to consider vascular diseases as potential drivers of weight loss in older adults. Recognizing the poor outcomes associated with rapid weight loss, Dr. Smith proposed AAC as a tool to identify older women at the highest risk, opening avenues for cardiovascular disease risk screening and exploring potential influences on body composition from other vascular organs.

The research’s next steps involve validating these findings in other cohorts, conducting studies with blood flow measures, and assessing macronutrient absorption capacities.

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