Muscle Loss in Elderly Causes, Symptoms, Management
Right from the time you are born to about the time you turn 30, your body muscles grow in size and strength. However, at some time in your 30s, your body starts to lose muscle mass and function. Muscle loss is seen more actively in senior citizens and elders over the age of 50, in as much as 10% of the adults. This process is called Sarcopenia.
What exactly is Sarcopenia?
Muscle loss matters because it weakens the body and decreases its strength and mobility. Sarcopenia is a factor of body weakness and the likelihood of falls and fractures in older adults. It affects your gait, balance, and overall ability to perform daily tasks such as climbing stairs, lifting objects, and walking.
Sarcopenia is characterized by the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, quality, and strength. The rate of muscle loss is dependent on exercise level, co-morbidities, nutrition and other factors. Physically active adults still experience muscle loss.
What Causes Muscle Loss?
The loss of muscle mass comprises of both a reduction in the number of muscle fibres and a decrease in their size. This makes for a harmful combination, which causes the muscle to shrink. As a person ages, certain changes take place in the body that leads to sarcopenia.
The most common causes of muscle loss in the elderly or Sarcopenia are a decrease in physical activities and casual health issues that come with the ageing body. However, elderly people with active lifestyles are also diagnosed with severe loss of muscle mass and sudden loss of muscle control, which may be connected to other causes for the disease.
It is observed that very often proper diet is not followed on a regular basis by senior citizens and makes up for another big muscle loss reason. Not consuming enough daily calories and protein needed to maintain your muscle mass leads to a reduction in muscle size.
After an injury or illness, inflammation sends signals to the body to tear down and then rebuild the damaged groups of cells. This results in disruption of the normal balance of teardown and healing, further leading to muscle loss. This reason for muscle loss has been observed to be true for elders having suffered chronic, long-term diseases but is true for even minor health issues.
Other muscle loss causes include:
• Reduction in the nerve cells that send signals from your brain to tell your muscles to move
• Lowering your hormone levels is a big muscle loss cause in elders.
• Muscle loss reasons include a decline in your body’s ability to convert protein to energy, which leads to the shrinking of muscles.
• Severe stress is observed to be a common muscle loss cause in senior citizens, induced by major diseases that hinder body growth and movement.
Muscle Loss Symptoms
Symptoms of muscle loss or sarcopenia may vary depending on how much muscle mass a person has lost. A general feeling of loss of muscle strength is one of the signs of muscle loss, indicating low physical activity which further leads to increased muscle loss.
Losing weight without trying can also be a sign of muscle loss, among being a symptom of other diseases. Weakness and loss of stamina are commonly observed symptoms that can interfere with the physical activity of a person. Other common symptoms include:
• Decrease in muscle size
• Weakness and fatigue
• Loss of endurance
• Poor balance
• Trouble climbing stairs
Sarcopenia may not seem like a big concern; however, muscle loss can be significant enough to cause weakness, increase fall risk, and limit a person’s independence, thereby decreasing the elderly person’s quality of life. Therefore, timely and correct treatment is very important to cure this disease.
When muscles are not used, they shrink. The primary treatment for old age muscle loss includes physical activity and exercise, specifically resistance training or strength training.
Strength training or resistance training can help to improve muscle size, strength, and tone. Further, it can also strengthen bones, ligaments and tendons which is good for a person’s overall health. These activities increase muscle strength and endurance using weights or resistance bands, helping to stop muscle loss in the elderly. They also help to improve the ability to convert protein to energy, which is essential for recovery.
A systematic flow of resistance training is required for getting the most benefit with the least risk of injury, including the proper number, intensity and frequency of resistance exercises. Hence, it is recommended that you consult with a trainer or a home health care provider to develop an exercise plan.
Walking is probably one of the simplest exercises that can be done for free to avoid signs of muscle loss in older adults. Walking has been proven to help in increasing muscle mass and strength.
Hormone replacement therapy
Hormone replacement therapy or HRT helps to raise lean body mass, decrease abdominal fat, and prevent bone deterioration in women whose hormone levels decrease with menopause. It also helps to stop old age muscle loss.
A balanced diet is essential for the treatment of muscle loss. Increasing the protein intake is known to have shown results, along with foods items that do not have excessive amounts of sodium, fat, and cholesterol.
Dietary supplements can also be taken to meet the required levels of vitamins and minerals in the body to prevent loss of muscle strength. Please consult with your doctor before taking any supplements. Eating enough calories, Omega-3 and creatine supplements can slow down the rate of muscle loss.
Ageing is inevitable but muscle loss shouldn’t be. Although sarcopenia becomes more common with age and can have an impact on the quality of life of the elderly, steps can be taken to decrease its effects and to avoid sarcopenia completely. It is important to identify muscle loss symptoms and take action early.
Even if muscle loss has occurred, proper diet and getting physically active can help people with sarcopenia. Resistance exercises are effective in diminishing muscle loss, including using resistance bands, lifting weights, or doing calisthenics like squats, push-ups, and sit-ups. Simple walking can also slow down the rate of muscle loss.
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