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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 March, 2004, 00:51 GMT
Study aims to cut elderly falls
Elderly woman in hospital
Hospital admissions following falls cost the NHS millions
Researchers are to probe the reasons why elderly people are more prone to heavy falls.

The team, from King's College London, hope their work will lead to new ways to minimise the risk of death and serious injury.

Falls are the biggest cause of accidental death in the UK, higher than both road accidents and fires.

On average an older person dies just over every five hours as the result of a fall at home.

We do not really understand why muscles get weaker with age
Dr Kirsty Elliott
They are also a major cause of injury in older people and can lead to further complications such as pneumonia and prolonged bed-rest that can devastate health and quality of life.

The research team will explore the reasons why we become weaker as we get older.

Muscle strength

They will analyse the differences in muscle strength and proteins within the muscles in older and younger people.

The aim is to pave the way for the development of new treatments that along with exercise and nutritional support will prevent or reverse muscle weakness and reduce the likelihood of falls.

Researcher Dr Kirsty Elliott said: "As we grow older our muscles become weaker and we are more prone to falling over, often with severe consequences.

"Muscle weakness is more pronounced in women after the menopause whilst men appear partly protected until their seventies, by the hormone testosterone.

"We do not really understand why muscles get weaker with age and if we are to design efficient treatments to reduce muscle weakness this situation must be rectified."

Approximately 60 volunteers between the ages of 65-80 and 20-35 are being recruited for the trial.

For approximately 15 minutes, three times a week, participants will take part in 'strength training' by using gym equipment such as leg press machines.


After the trial, a scientific analysis will be undertaken by a team at St George's Medical School in London.

They will be looking at the link between different proteins and muscle strength using muscle biopsies.

This will mean scanning all proteins to identify whether there are some that are always prevalent in older muscles or some that are missing.

Dr Lorna Layward of Research into Ageing, the medical arm of Help the Aged, which is funding the study, said: "This project is vitally important in improving the quality of life of older people.

"As we get older we fall more frequently - one in three people over 65 have a serious fall every year."

It is hoped that the project, due to finish in 2007, will help to understand the biochemistry of older muscles so that effective treatments can become a real possibility in the future and deaths from falling in the home can be prevented.

  • If you would like to take part in the study and you are aged between 65-80 or 20-35 please contact Kings College on 020 7848 6379 or e-mail: kirsty.elliott@kcl.ac.uk

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