How to Recognize the Signs of Sarcopenia in Older Adults

Between 5-13% of people ages 60 to 70 are affected by sarcopenia. However, the number increases to 11-50% for people ages 80 and up.

What exactly is this condition, and how can you recognize the signs of sarcopenia in older adults? In this guide, we’ll review everything you need to know about this condition, including causes, symptoms, and treatment.

The more you know about sarcopenia, the more likely you can spot the signs. Then, you can get the treatment you or your loved one needs as soon as possible.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about sarcopenia.

What is Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia is defined as a loss of muscle mass. While it’s normal to lose muscle mass as you age, sarcopenia involves severe muscle loss related to aging.

This condition can affect your balance and gait. It might also impact your ability to perform daily tasks or work.

Previously, researchers thought deterioration as a result of sarcopenia in older adults was inevitable.

Today, scientists are looking into new treatment options that can help slow down or even prevent sarcopenia symptoms.

Symptoms

Now that you know a little more about this condition, let’s discuss the signs of sarcopenia in older adults.

First, patients with sarcopenia often experience weakness. They might also lose stamina as a result of their muscle loss. Losing muscle mass will also cause your strength to drop.

Sarcopenia also reduces your ability to complete physical activities such as running and sports. You might have a difficult time climbing stairs, lifting objects, and walking, too.

However, reducing your physical activity can further lead to muscle mass loss. Losing muscle mass involved a decrease in the number of muscle fibers and their size. Both effects can cause the muscles to shrink and atrophy.

If you’re looking for the signs of sarcopenia in adults, check for:

  • Trouble climbing stairs
  • Balance issues
  • Loss of endurance
  • Weakness
  • Decreased muscle size

For some people, the decline of muscle mass isn’t obvious. However, the decline can cause weakness, which could cause you to fall or limit your independence.

Causes

The muscle loss associated with sarcopenia involves a complex, multifaceted process. As you get older, certain changes to your body and lifestyle can lead to the development of sarcopenia.

Low Activity

It most often occurs when patients become inactive. However, sarcopenia can also occur with patients who remain physically active throughout their entire lives.

Muscle loss often begins around the time you turn 40. The loss of muscle tissue can continue progressing at more rapid rates when you’re in your 60s.

The muscle loss is regulated by the neuromuscular system, which controls your movement. It also occurs due to hormones, protein synthesis, and certain lifestyle factors.

While a sedentary lifestyle is one possible contribution to this disease, it’s not the only one to consider. Other common contributors that occur as we age include:

  • The death of motor neurons
  • A shift in protein requirements
  • Hormone level changes

As you age, the number of nerve cells will drop. These nerve cells are responsible for sending signals from the brain to your muscles. Without these cells, your body won’t receive the signals that are responsible for movement.

Malnutrition

Malnutrition can also cause a long list of health problems, including muscle degeneration. Older adults are more prone to malnutrition as they neglect to get a balanced diet each day. For a patient with sarcopenia, malnutrition can cause protein deficiency, which further causes muscle loss.

A diet that’s high in acid-producing foods (meat and cereal grains) and low non-acid producing foods (fruits and vegetables) can contribute to sarcopenia.

Not getting enough calories or protein each day can make it difficult for you to sustain your muscle mass.

As you get older, your body’s ability to produce the proteins your muscles need to grow will decrease. As protein production drops, your individual muscle cells will get smaller, too.

Hormones

A blood test might indicate that your hormone levels have dropped. Lower concentrations of these hormones can cause your sarcopenia symptoms. These include:

  • Growth hormone
  • Testosterone
  • Insulin-like growth factor

These age-related hormone changes will cause your muscle mass to drop.

When you age, your body’s ability to turn proteins into energy will decrease, too. You need this energy to remain physically active.

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

To diagnose sarcopenia, your doctor will first review the symptoms you’re experiencing. They might also recommend a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or walking speed test.

DXA involves using low-energy X-rays to study your skeletal mass. The X-ray will also measure bone density and test you for osteoporosis. Combined with the walking test, this exam can help diagnose sarcopenia.

There currently isn’t an FDA-approved medication available to treat sarcopenia. Researchers are currently investigating hormone therapy to help increase lean muscle mass. Other potential treatments include using testosterone and growth hormones to help sarcopenia patients.

However, further study is needed before scientists recommend these options as a form of treatment.

Instead of medication, you might consider managing your symptoms by focusing on lifestyle changes. For example, try to build a regular exercise routine. Strength or resistance training can improve your muscle tone, strength, and size.

Regular training can also strengthen your ligaments, bones, and tendons, which will improve your overall health.

It’s also important to focus on your nutrition. Remember, malnutrition and a low-protein diet can put you at risk. To delay the condition, try eating:

  • Skinless protein
  • Lean cuts of beef
  • Seafood
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Quinoa

Consuming more protein might also help older adults reduce their chance of developing sarcopenia, according to research.

Certain dietary supplements, such as creatine, can also increase strength and lean muscle mass. Make sure to speak with your doctor before adding supplements to your routine. It’s important to make sure these supplements won’t impact any medications you’re already taking.

Keep an Eye Out: How to Recognize the Signs of Sarcopenia in Older Adults

Keep an eye out for these signs and symptoms. By learning how to recognize sarcopenia in older adults, you can get diagnosed and build a treatment plan as soon as possible.

Ready to forge a plan against sarcopenia? Choose the StrongPath! Explore our wellness program to learn more.

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