NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

OAP falls 'linked to athlete gene'

Elderly woman lying on the floor
Image caption Elderly women with the variant gene are more at risk from falls

Genetic screening could identify elderly women more likely to have a fall, new research suggests.

Aberdeen University scientists believe the gene ACTN3, which has been linked to muscle strength and power in elite athletes, is associated with falling.

A study of more than 4,000 elderly women suggested those with variant ACTN3 genes were 33% more likely to fall.

However, the authors warned that falls were caused by a number of things.

Having this gene variant alone is not enough to cause elderly women to tumble.

Everyone has two copies of ACTN3 - inherited from parents - which determine how strong muscles are.

Only 30% of the population have two fully-functioning ACTN3 genes.

Everyone else has non-functioning variations of this gene - either one or both of the two copies will be a variant and will not produce protein.

But this was found to make no difference to people's day-to-day lives.

The researchers have discovered that elderly women with the gene variant are more at risk of falls, irrespective of whether they have one or two copies of the non-functional variants.

Cost of falls

One of the researchers, Dr Lynne Hocking, said: "This is a first step towards identifying groups of people who are at high risk of falling.

"However, it is only a first step and having this gene variant is not enough on its own to cause women to trip over.

"Our study provides further evidence that people can be genetically predisposed to falls.

"It is not just circumstantial, environmental or due to other factors such as medication they might be taking, or other existing medical conditions, that can cause women to fall."

More than a third of people over 65 fall each year, and half of those suffer recurrent falls.

Falls among the elderly are estimated to cost £581m per year in the UK.

The research was published in the Journals of Gerontology.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites