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Early Symptoms of Sarcopenia, Treatment, and Prevention

symptoms of sarcopenia

Retirement is a period of rest, relaxation, and enjoyment — a reward for older people’s efforts throughout their working years. So, it’s little wonder they usually don’t engage in intense physical activities in retirement.

And reduced physical activity as one grows older results in a gradual yet natural loss of muscle mass and strength. But in some cases, certain individuals may lose their muscle mass more rapidly than usual. This condition is known as Sarcopenia.

Seasons Retirement are committed to ensuring our residents lead happy, active, and healthy lives. We provide an enabling environment for older adults to engage in physical activities, regardless of their mobility issues.

Although sarcopenia is a common health issue among older adults, many fail to treat or even diagnose the condition. For this reason, we’ll discuss the symptoms of sarcopenia, its prevention, and treatment in this article.

What is Sarcopenia?

Losing some muscle mass with age is normal. However, sarcopenia describes an excessive degeneration of muscle cells in the body and refers to loss of muscle on a severe scale, leading to atrophy in some cases. 

Sarcopenia is a common muscle atrophy condition in older adults and is often accelerated by physical inactivity and unhealthy eating. As the body’s muscle mass weakens, one might experience unsteady gait, decreased balance, and reduced ability to carry out daily activities.

For older persons, sarcopenia can result in the loss of independence and the need for supervised care. Fortunately, scientists are progressing in finding a sarcopenia treatment.

When Does Sarcopenia Begin in Older Adults?

When do you start losing muscle with sarcopenia? Age-related sarcopenia is a normal part of the aging process.

At age 30, the body begins to lose about 3% to 5% of its muscle mass per decade. This means the body will lose about 15% of its muscle mass by age 60.

Early Symptoms of Sarcopenia in Older Adults

Certain signs and symptoms signify the onset of sarcopenia, and they include:

  • Reduced muscle size
  • Self-reported muscle atrophy
  • Overall body weakness
  • Reduced stamina and strength
  • Slow walking speed
  • Unwillingness or difficulty to engage in routines or daily activities

Interestingly, a reduced level of physical activity, one of the symptoms of sarcopenia, will contribute to further muscle mass degeneration in the body.

Causes of Sarcopenia in Older Adults

Although lack of physical activity is the major cause of sarcopenia in older adults, some people with active lifestyles also get diagnosed with the condition. So, this is a pointer to the fact that, besides reduced activity, there are other reasons for your older one’s muscle loss. 

Below are other probable causes of sarcopenia in older people:

  • A population decline of nerve cells that transmit brain impulses to muscles for movement
  • A decrease in hormone levels
  • A reduction in the body’s ability to convert protein to energy
  • Inadequate intake of calories and protein to maintain the body’s muscle mass
  • Obesity and insulin resistance

How is Sarcopenia Diagnosed in Older Adults?

For sarcopenia diagnosis, one must undergo a series of muscle strength tests. These diagnostic examinations will also help the physician determine the severity of the condition.

The following are the muscle strength tests for diagnosing sarcopenia:

   1. Handgrip test

Your older one’s handgrip strength often reflects how much strength is in their other muscles. The healthcare professional uses this test to identify a decline in overall muscle strength.

   2. Chair-stand test

This test is primarily used to evaluate the strength of your older loved one’s muscles, especially the quadriceps. The chair-stand test spans 30 seconds and measures the number of times your older relatives can sit and stand from a chair without using their hands.

   3. Walking speed test

As the name implies, this counts the time it takes your parents or grandparents to travel a distance of 4 meters at their usual walking pace.

   4. Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) 

This test entails three timed tasks — the chair stand test, the standing balance test, and the walking speed test.

   5. Timed-Up and Go test (TUG) 

The TUG test measures the time your older ones take to stand up from a chair, walk 3 meters away, the same distance back, and sit down again.

It is worth noting that, in addition, some imaging tests are carried out to check the body’s muscle mass. Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA) and Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) are the primary scans for measuring muscle mass in diagnosing sarcopenia.

Treatment of Sarcopenia in Older Adults

Although sarcopenia cannot be fully cured, some treatment procedures and methods have been found to slow down the progression of the condition, and they include:

   1. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Older folks with sarcopenia who have low testosterone levels can be treated with the hormone, especially considering that testosterone is associated with muscle mass and strength. Also, growth hormone supplements can treat this muscle atrophy condition.

   2. Nutritional treatment

Encourage your older ones to incorporate meals rich in proteins, carbohydrates, vitamin D, and other muscle-building nutrients in their diet. They can also improve their nutrient intake by using dietary supplements. These nutrients will enhance your loved one’s muscle strength, reversing sarcopenia.

   3. Physical therapy

Workouts and physical exercises are vital to treating sarcopenia, especially in older adults. Progressive resistance-based strength training will help improve your loved one’s balance, stamina, and overall muscle strength.

Prevention of Sarcopenia in Older Adults

A lack of physical activity is one of the major causes of sarcopenia in older adults. Hence, becoming more physically active can reduce your loved one’s risk of developing the condition. For example, engaging in low-impact exercises, like walking, jogging, or even dancing, for half an hour daily should help older people develop stronger muscles.

Furthermore, as in the prevention of osteoporosis, adequate nutrition is essential in keeping the muscles healthy and less prone to degeneration. In fact, research has found that increasing protein intake may help older people keep sarcopenia at bay. Meanwhile, creatine, vitamin D, and whey protein supplements have also proven effective in preventing sarcopenia.

Conclusion

Indeed, dealing with the symptoms of sarcopenia can be unsettling for older adults. But with a proper treatment regimen, older people with sarcopenia can still enjoy a fun and independent post-retirement life.

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