Breakthrough: Scientists measured the extent to which a bone fracture can lead to early death

How old is your skeleton?


Fragility fracture is associated with an increased risk of mortality. A new study has introduced a concept called ‘Skeletal Age,’ as the age of an individual’s skeleton resulting from a fragility fracture.

Scientists from The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have measured the extent to which a bone fracture can lead to early death. They have created a publicly available tool for doctors and patients to calculate risk.

Skeletal age is the sum of chronological age and the number of years of life lost (YLL) associated with a fracture.

For the study, scientists used the Danish National Hospital Discharge Register, which includes the whole-country data of 1.6 million adults in Denmark. Examining data revealed that a bone fracture was associated with losing one to seven years of life, depending on gender, age, and bone site.

Scientists applied their concept of the ‘Skeletal Age’ to an online calculator that measures bone fragility. This helps doctors and patients better understand the gravity of bone fractures.

UTS Distinguished Professor Tuan Nguyen, the project leader, says the risk of premature death is exceptionally high for patients who suffer a hip fracture, with 30% of patients dying within a year of the fracture. 

However, the risk of premature death increases with other types of fractures.

“Although a bone fracture can reduce a person’s lifespan, patients who suffer from a fracture don’t fully understand this reality.”

The Skeletal Age tool seeks to give patients a better awareness of the hazards connected with bone fractures by assessing the typical decline in life expectancy.

Dr. Thach Tran, a co-lead author of the paper, said that currently, doctor-patient communication of fracture risk involves using probability

“A disadvantage of probability is that it can be hard to comprehend, with patients often perceiving a 5% risk of death following a hip fracture over five years as a 95% chance of surviving a hip fracture.”

“The Skeletal Age tool provides an alternative approach to informing patients of their fracture risk. For example, instead of informing a 60-year-old woman that her risk of death following a hip fracture is 5%, she can be informed that her skeletal age is 65.”

Distinguished Professor Nguyen says the development of the Skeletal Age tool is a breakthrough in the prevention of 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.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Thach Tran, Thao Ho-Le, et al. ‘SSkeletal Age’ for mapping the impact of fracture on mortality. eLife. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.83888
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