The Fragile Elderly Hip

Here is an open access review that looks at what is known of the proximate mechanisms that cause increasing fragility of bone with advancing age. These are not the root causes, but it remains to be determined how exactly the laundry list of primary differences between old tissues and young tissues produces the results discussed below. Arguably it is faster and more efficient to investigate by doing; work to reverse these primary changes in tissue samples and animals and see what happens. That is a lot easier than trying to understand the full scope of the complexity of aging, and has a much greater chance of producing meaningful therapies to halt the advance of aging in the near term:

Every hip fracture begins with a microscopic crack, which enlarges explosively over microseconds. Most hip fractures in the elderly occur on falling from standing height, usually sideways or backwards. The typically moderate level of trauma very rarely causes fracture in younger people. Here, this paradox is traced to the decline of multiple protective mechanisms at many length scales from nanometres to that of the whole femur.

With normal ageing, the femoral neck asymmetrically and progressively loses bone tissue precisely where the cortex is already thinnest and is also compressed in a sideways fall. At the microscopic scale of the basic remodelling unit (BMU) that renews bone tissue, increased numbers of actively remodelling BMUs associated with the reduced mechanical loading in a typically inactive old age augments the numbers of mechanical flaws in the structure potentially capable of initiating cracking.

Menopause and over-deep osteoclastic resorption are associated with incomplete BMU refilling leading to excessive porosity, cortical thinning and disconnection of trabeculae. In the femoral cortex, replacement of damaged bone or bone containing dead osteocytes is inefficient, impeding the homeostatic mechanisms that match strength to habitual mechanical usage. In consequence the participation of healthy osteocytes in crack-impeding mechanisms is impaired.

Observational studies demonstrate that protective crack deflection in the elderly is reduced. At the most microscopic levels attention now centres on the role of tissue ageing, which may alter the relationship between mineral and matrix that optimises the inhibition of crack progression and on the role of osteocyte ageing and death that impedes tissue maintenance and repair.



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