NORTHWESTERN (US)—Wrist fractures, the most common upper extremity fractures in older adults, may play a role in the development of disability, particularly in women, according to a new study.

The precise impact of wrist fractures on the ability to carry out everyday tasks—including carrying heavy objects, opening doors, cutting food, pouring liquid, turning the key, and getting out of a chair—has not previously been well studied, according to the research.

Details appear in British Medical Journal.

Beatrice Edwards, associate professor of geriatrics at Northwestern University, set out to quantify the clinical impact of wrist fractures in a group of older women.

The study included 6,107 healthy women, aged 65 years and older, without prior wrist or hip fracture.

Five activities of daily living were used as a measure of functional decline (meal preparation, heavy housekeeping, ability to climb 10 stairs, shopping, and getting out of a car). Participants were examined approximately every two years for an average of 7.6 years.

During the study period, 268 women had a wrist fracture. These women were approximately 50 percent more likely to experience clinically important functional decline compared to women without a wrist fracture, even after accounting for demographic, health and lifestyle factors.

The effect of a wrist fracture on functional decline was found to be as clinically significant as other established risk factors such as falls, diabetes, and arthritis.

“Our findings highlight the personal, public health, and policy implications of wrist fractures,” Edwards says.

Greater public health awareness of the impact of wrist fractures is needed, the study concludes, including measures such as bone density screening and treatment of women with osteoporosis, to prevent wrist fractures and prompt rehabilitation after a wrist fracture to help improve recovery.

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