Dietitians Dish: Cause of age-related sarcopenia is multifactored

Lisa Hagan

Age-related sarcopenia affects 30 percent of people over the age of 60 years old, and as our population ages, it will increase. Sarcopenia is the medical term for what is commonly called frailty in older adults.

The condition is characterized by a decrease in muscle, strength and physical function. Inactive adults older than 30 can lose more than three percent of muscle each decade.

Most adults will gain 30 pounds of fat and lose 15 pounds of muscle by the time they reach 60 years old. After 70, muscle loss accelerates. Overweight, older adults are not exempted from sarcopenia and may actually face greater debilitation compared to those who are underweight. It robs many older adults of their ability to take care of themselves. There is an increased risk of falling, hospitalizations and the need for longterm care.

The cause of age-related sarcopenia is multifactored. It is usually seen in older adults who have a chronic illness such as Type 2 diabetes, chronic heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis and malignancies. Sarcopenia can also develop in those who do not eat a healthy diet or have a sedentary lifestyle. Good nutrition and healthy physical activity can help prevent or delay sarcopenia.

Older adults need fewer calories to maintain a healthy body weight. Because the need for vitamins and minerals remain the same, meals should be nutritious.

Eating healthy can become a challenge for some because the taste for sweets or salty foods becomes more attractive with age. The calories from cookies or chips can replace the nutritious protein foods. For that reason, some older adults do not get enough protein.

By eating a good source of protein with each meal, adequate protein is assured. Another reason elderly individuals may not get enough protein is chewing difficulties. Make sure meals are soft in texture. Chopped or ground meats can be helpful. Other individuals may have a poor bowel tolerance to some protein foods such as dairy products or legumes. Adding lactase milk or adding an antigas product can be helpful.

The amount of calories needed to maintain muscles decreases mostly from less physical activity. There is no way around not being physically active. The consequences are too great. Exercise is very important.

Sedentary adults will lose muscle and their strength easier than those who are physically active. Aerobic exercise and resistance training should be routine. The benefits are great. Some individuals who have sarcopenia can see the return of strength after two weeks of physical activity.

Protecting our health and the health of our elderly is very important. Preventing sarcopenia is the key to good health throughout a lifetime. Take time to plan nutritious meals and an exercise routine so we can all live healthy, active lives.

Lisa Hagan is a registered and licensed dietitian with DeTar Health Systems. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.