If you want to know whether an older patient is at risk for hip fracture, just ask. A team of Swedish researchers has found that self-reported impaired balance could be a risk factor for future fractures in the elderly.

“There is a need for a simple tool with which to identify subjects who are at increased risk of injurious falls,” explain Helene Wagner of the orthopedics section at University Hospital in Uppsala, Sweden, and colleagues (Am J Epidemiol. 2009;169:143-149). “Self-reported impaired balance might be such a readily accessible risk factor.”

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Over the course of two years, the investigators oversaw computer-assisted telephone interviews with 24,598 twins age 55 years and older. At the time, 12% of the twins responded “yes” to the question, “Do you have impaired balance?” The twins with poor balance had more than three times the risk of fracturing a hip as their co-twins. Impaired balance was found to be responsible for about 40% of all hip fractures.