SOUTHAMPTON doctors are using broken wrists to diagnose dementia in a pioneering project that aims to save lives.

All patients over 70 who fracture bones in a fall will receive specialist treatment at Southampton General Hospital that will not only fix broken bones but also look for signs of undiagnosed dementia.

By getting to the root problem of why they have fallen, which for many can be dementia, medics hope to prevent the patient going on to fracture their hips in more serious falls that can often prove lifethreatening.

Elderly patients who attend accident and emergency after a fall but do not require hospital admission are separated from other patients and seen directly by a dedicated team of orthopaedic, osteoporosis and elderly care specialists.

As well as treatment for their broken bones, they are given a basic physical and mental assessment to find out why they are falling in a bid to minimise their future risk and prevent more serious fractures.

There are currently 75,000 cases of hip fracture in the UK every year among people of an average age of 80 years, but experts in Southampton believe earlier intervention into all aspects of an individual’s health needs will lower the number.

Dr Mark Baxter a consultant in elderly care and bone health who is co-leading the initiative, said: “About 40 per cent of people who have a hip fracture have got dementia or some form of cognitive dysfunction and, of them, a significant proportion are not diagnosed.

“We also know around half of all hip fracture patients have fractured bones before, and between 25 and 30 per cent of all people who break their hip die within a year, so it is clear these patients are extremely vulnerable and, based on current statistics, in need of much wider intervention than they currently receive.

“We know that as people age their bones become more weak and fragile, so my concern as an orthogeriatrician is that these people are falling over as well. If we can get to the bottom of why that is from the outset, we can not only prevent them going on to do further, more serious, harm, but also help treat and manage any brain impairment.”

Following a full medical and falls assessment by a consultant geriatrician in clinic, those who showsigns of future falls risk are referred directly to the falls service and, if required, to a specialist dementia clinic to care for their cognitive needs.

Simon Tilley, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon and joint project lead, added: “We are going to treat these patients’ wrist or shoulder fractures, but the knock-on effect will be that we hope to prevent the more serious and life-threatening fractures later on.”