Sarcopenia isn’t a household word, but it is one of the causes of physical disability in seniors. Characterized as the loss of lean muscle mass that occurs as people age, the condition plays a major role in the relationship between the elderly and falls.
If you’re concerned about developing sarcopenia, there’s good news: Eating a well-balanced diet and staying active can help stave off its negative effects. Here’s a closer look at the condition — and how you can fight back.
Age and Muscle Mass
It is natural to lose lean muscle mass as you age. In fact, it can start as early as your 30s. This muscle loss tends to accelerate with time, to the point that over half of seniors over the age of 80 are diagnosed with sarcopenia, according to the Alliance for Aging Research. By the time they turn 60, about 30 percent of people have lost enough lean muscle to be affected the condition.
The decrease in strength and mobility due to muscle loss is a common reason why seniors move into long-term care facilities. Osteoporosis, which is closely related to sarcopenia, is another common reason seniors lose the ability to care for themselves. The two conditions have been thought to coexist, with one condition developing because of the other, or the pair developing together.
Preventing Muscle Loss
For healthy seniors, retaining as much strength and stability as possible requires eating well. Adequate amounts of protein in the diet are important because they fuel your body’s ability to build and maintain muscle. However, some conditions may make it difficult to get the nutrients necessary to build lean muscle mass, so it’s important to watch for signs of malnutrition.
Strength-building exercises with light weights or resistance bands are key to maintaining muscle as well — but that doesn’t mean you have to pump iron at the gym. Look for senior programs at your local community center or neighborhood senior center. Additionally, volunteering in an active role for a local nonprofit on a regular basis can help you remain mobile longer while also keeping you engaged in the community.
For those who are already experiencing muscle loss, it is important to be prepared in case of a fall. Active seniors may prefer a mobile medical alert device such as the GoSafe system, which uses GPS and cellular technology to call for help when you’re away from home. The GoSafe system uses a pendant that can detect falls or allow you to call for help in case of an emergency.
Preventing sarcopenia can help you remain steady on your feet, decreasing fall risk. By staying active and eating right, you’ll be extending your independence by helping your body maintain its lean muscle mass.