What is sarcopenia? If you are asking yourself the same question, simply take a look at everything you should know today!
In the year 2015, life expectancy soared up to 78.8 years of age. It’s not uncommon to hear people say 60 is the new 40 as people are stretching their lives and choosing to live them with fervor.
Yet, as people live longer, there also comes more of the consequences that come with age. People are facing diseases and ailments often associated with aging.
Eyesight and hearing start to falter. For some as they age, their activity levels decrease. They start to experience something called sarcopenia.
What is sarcopenia? If you are hitting your later years in life, or someone you love is aging, you need to know about and understand the sarcopenia so you can help them to avoid it.
Read on to learn all sarcopenia, causes, and prevention.
What Is Sarcopenia
While many diseases can impact both the young and old, sarcopenia is one that is specific to aging adults. Sarcopenia in older adults is a disease where muscle mass and muscle strength are lost.
While it’s pretty normal as people age to slow down and perhaps lose some muscle strength, with sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass is pretty significant.
It can affect a person’s gait or ability to walk. The loss of muscle mass also impacts balance. Sufferers of sarcopenia begin to find it difficult to perform those simple everyday tasks because their muscle mass is so declined.
Why Does Sarcopenia Happen?
Because sarcopenia seems so specific to older people, what happens as they age to bring on sarcopenia? Why do they get sarcopenia and can it be prevented or treated?
Since it can be so impactful to daily life and a person’s ability to function, it’s important to understand why the muscle mass deteriorates.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the causes of sarcopenia.
It’s no secret that many older folks tend to be less active. But you should also know that the makeup of our muscles change as we age.
A natural part of aging is the changes in hormone levels in the body. Those hormonal changes can impact muscle mass. This is a bit of the chicken and the egg. Do people slow down because they start to have changes in their muscles? Or do their muscles really change because they slow down?
The answer is that it’s likely it’s from both.
Nerve cells also diminish as people age. Those same nerve cells aren’t as strong to send messages to the bodies’ muscles to get moving. The decrease in activity can mean a loss of muscle mass.
Nutrition plays an important role in muscle development, no matter your age. As people age, their appetite changes and so does what they eat. This can be impactful to their health, specifically their muscle mass.
A few things can happen related to nutrition that will have an impact on how muscles maintain their muscle mass.
If an older person eats a diet that is rich in high acid-producing foods and low in nonacid-producing foods, sarcopenia can happen.
For many of the elderly, their calorie intake goes down. Not eating enough calories or eating enough protein can also contribute to a decline in muscle mass.
Another contributing factor is hormone levels. If your body produces smaller amounts of certain hormones, you will also see an increase in the symptoms related to sarcopenia.
These hormones include:
- Growth hormone
- Insulin-like growth factor
Testosterone is a key player for any person, male, female, young, or elderly, in maintaining muscle mass. Testosterone helps to activate something called satellite cells. These cells help to tell your muscles how to function.
As testosterone decreases with age a few things happen. Lower testosterone means a decrease in protein synthesis. It also means the body makes fewer of the satellite cells that give your muscles important information.
Symptoms of Sarcopenia
The symptoms of sarcopenia vary from person to person. It also depends on how much muscle mass they had before the sarcopenia started.
- Muscle size decreases
- Weakness in muscles
- Decrease in endurance
- Balance issues
- Difficulty climbing stairs
For the elderly, these symptoms can be significant as it can mean they are at an increased risk of falling.
Another unfortunate problem is that sarcopenia can cause a person to decrease their activity level. This only further exacerbates muscle mass loss.
Diagnosis is mostly symptoms based. A doctor who specializes in working with the elderly is likely to recognize the signs of sarcopenia by watching their patient move.
They can test muscle strength over time.
A doctor might also recommend a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) test. The DXA is often used to look at bone density and osteoporosis. When they study the combined results of the DXA test with walking and gait, often they can make a diagnosis for sarcopenia.
Treatment and Prevention
There are no specific medications approved by the FDA to treat sarcopenia. However, there are ways to treat and act to avoid its onset.
Doctors would likely look at hormone treatments if symptoms become too severe.
Exercise is key to prevention and treatment. The more you use the muscles, the better chance they stay intact. Walking and moving (as long as considered safe) are key.
Older adults should also consider an exercise regimen that strengthens muscle groups throughout the body.
Getting proper nutrition is also key to preventing the onset of sarcopenia. Eat enough lean proteins and be sure to monitor sodium, cholesterol and fat intake.
Many older adults also take vitamins and dietary supplements to ensure their bodies are getting what they need. Vitamin D and creatine supplements have been effective in helping many experiencing symptoms of sarcopenia. Both of these help to increase muscle mass and strength for a person of any age.
What is sarcopenia? Sarcopenia can be quite devastating for older folks as it can be very impactful on their mobility and ability to perform normal daily tasks. Prevention is key through exercise and good nutrition as you age.
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