At AIMSS, we focus on finding potential cures for common diseases that affect muscle, bone and joints. We also work to promote healthy ageing. Below, you will find a list of the diseases we focus on, together with some useful information. For more information on what we do, or to get involved in our clinical trials, please click here.
Osteoporosis is defined as a disease that affects bone making it brittle and prone to fracture. On the other side, sarcopenia (muscle wasting) is a disease that affects our muscles making them weaker. In some cases, some people suffer from both osteoporosis and sarcopenia at the same time. This disease has been named osteosarcopenia.
Our research indicates that those patients who suffer from osteosarcopenia are at much higher risk of falls and fractures than those suffering from one of those diseases alone. Although there is not a medication that works on both muscle and bone and the same time, several interventions such as exercise and healthy lifestyle are effective in preventing the catastrophic consequences of this disease. You are invited to discuss with your GP about osteosarcopenia, how to diagnose and how to treat it.
Osteoporosis is a disease characterised by fragile bones: this means that people with osteoporosis have a much higher risk of suffering a broken bone (fracture) than those without this disease. More than 1 million Australians have osteoporosis, which is more common in those aged 50 years and over, and can affect both men and women. Due to the bones being fragile (a result of low bone density), a fracture can occur very easily, even after just a minor fall.
Osteoporosis has been referred to as the ‘silent disease’, because osteoporosis often has no symptoms, until a fracture occurs. Fractures can result in a loss of independence and quality of life: experiencing one fracture can even increase your risk of experiencing another one. But the good news is that your doctor can easily assess your risk for osteoporosis, and if needed, your bone density can be tested by a simple scan. Australian doctors have a range of medications available to treat osteoporosis, and there are many lifestyle behaviours that can help improve your bone health, including regularly consuming calcium as part of your diet, being physically active, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol intake.
There are scores of different types of arthritis that someone can present with. The key difference in management is to get the diagnosis right early, and to receive prompt treatment, to prevent irreversible joint damage. We are so advanced in our understanding and treatment of severe arthritis that fortunately we no longer expect to see the severe damage and deformities in our patients that we used to see.
Mutlidisciplinary teams (the combination of several healthcare specialisations) managing osteoarthritis and back pain are the best model for care, rather than long waits in queues to see a surgeon. The majority of patients can be helped without surgery even those with the advanced XRay changes. Rheumatologists can help provide a great alternative to joint replacement and back surgery, working with a multidisciplinary team.
Some patients do present with severe autoimmune conditions (where the immune system attacks healthy cells in your body) that are not only hard to diagnose, but also hard to treat. Getting prompt assessment from the rheumatology team is important in this situation.
Sarcopenia is a term coined to describe the loss of muscle mass and strength that impacts on activities of daily living. Although most prevalent in older individuals, sarcopenia can occur at any age, often in combination with chronic disease and obesity.
Sarcopenia is only now being formally diagnosed, but up to 30% of individuals over 60 and as many as 50% over 80 are considered to be living with sarcopenia. Having insufficient skeletal muscle limits your ability to carry out usual tasks, and is also associated with osteoporosis, obesity and risk of falling.
The biggest risk factor for sarcopenia is lack of activity, although a range of lifestyle factors, such as smoking and poor diet are also contributors. Fortunately, sarcopenia symptoms can be lessened or even reversed by taking part in structured exercise programs than include resistance exercise (weight training), which helps to build muscle and strength. Aerobic exercise and balance training will also help to reduce the risk of falls and disability.
Nutrition is also important. Make sure you get plenty of protein, especially dairy proteins, and preferably space intake of these during the day rather than waiting just for your evening meal. Maintaining good levels of vitamin D is also important, not only for your bones, but also your muscles, and excessive alcohol intake should be avoided.
Talk to your doctor if there are typical tasks you struggle to do, or feel weak and fatigued. While there are few specific medications available, Australian doctors can run some simple tests of your strength and assess your risk for sarcopenia using the same simple scan used to test for osteoporosis. Your doctor can advise you on the lifestyle behaviours that can help improve your muscle health, and can refer you to an exercise physiologist for further treatment.