A common health problem, which many elders never heard of, is something called sarcopenia. This condition is the loss of muscle mass and causes muscles to become weak.
Sarcopenia begins around age 45 and increases thereafter. By age 65, people, especially those who are sedentary, have lost almost half of their muscle mass and strength. The muscles become so weak that everyday mobility – getting up from chairs and toilet seats, climbing stairs – becomes difficult. This often leads to falls resulting in serious injury. Weak muscles can also lead to osteoporosis or weak bones, which increases the risk of dangerous falls, as well.
Sarcopenia Risk Factors
- Being female. Women are at greater risk of sarcopenia because they start life with much less muscle mass than men.
- Decline in activity. People who lead a sedentary lifestyle are most likely to experience significant sarcopenia as they age. Sitting around on the couch is a good way to ensure serious loss of muscle late in life.
- Decline in nutritional intake. People who eat unhealthy diets experience great drops in muscle strength.
Management of Sarcopenia
First, elders and their family caregivers need to become aware that muscle weakness is a major reason for loss of mobility and independence and increased risk of falling. If an elder’s mobility is affected and his or her ability to live independently threatened, visit the doctor for a proper evaluation.
Second, engage in exercise. Strength training (using weights) and cardio (aerobic) are needed to maintain muscle health. Experts recommend about 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week. Aerobic exercises include brisk walking, biking or swimming.
Finally, to maintain muscle, eat a healthy amount of protein such as eggs, salmon, sirloin steak, chicken and almonds.
The specific amount of exercise and protein in a diet is based on an individual’s health and exercise status. Any change in activity levels and diet should always be done under a doctor’s care and recommendations.
Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D., PA-C (or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to) is the president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, N.J., a consulting company that provides educational, legal and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist (health care professional who specializes in working with elderly patients) and a geriatric physician's assistant. Check out Dr. Rein’s professional profile on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dr-rein/6/759/592. If you have any questions about preventing falls, please feel free to email Dr. Rein at firstname.lastname@example.org.