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What You Should Know About Loss of Strength and Muscle Mass in Seniors

Muscle loss as a result of aging is referred to as sarcopenia, usually occurring around age 75 but as early as 65 or as late as 80. It’s a leading factor in frailty and leads to a likelihood of falls and fractures in older adults, according to WebMD. Many patients in hospice suffer from sarcopenia, lessening their strength and mobility over time. These effects are compounded in bed-bound seniors due to the lack of regular exercise, with progression greatly accelerated by physical inactivity and poor nutrition, points out NCBI. If your loved one suffers from loss of strength and muscle mass in Alameda County, read on for more information.

Symptoms and Causes

The main symptoms of sarcopenia include weakness and loss of stamina, which as a result can interfere with physical activity levels. There could be other factors at play here, especially when it comes to people who are still relatively active. Those factors include:

  • Reduction in nerve cells that transmit signals from the brain to the muscles to begin movement
  • Lower concentrations of hormones, such as growth hormones and testosterone
  • Decrease in ability to turn protein into energy
  • Neurological decline
  • Hormonal changes
  • Inflammatory pathway activation
  • Decline in activity
  • Chronic illness
  • Fatty infiltration
  • Failure to get enough calories or protein daily in order to sustain muscle mass

This last point is important, as it seems to be one of the bigger factors contributing to the loss of muscle mass. This is because many older adults, especially those facing end of life care, tend to eat less, which leads to malnutrition. Up to 41 percent of women and 38 percent of men over the age of 50 eat less protein than the recommended daily allowance, says Medical News Today. Many of these older adults instead eat a lot of acid-producing foods, such as grains and processed foods, and not enough fruits and vegetables.


In addition to a diet rich in protein, another way to combat sarcopenia is through exercise — specifically strength training or resistance training. This can be nearly impossible for older adults going through hospice but those who receive home health care and are relatively mobile can use light weights and resistance bands to counteract the effects of muscle mass loss. Even just taking short walks can be beneficial. Consult with your loved one’s physical therapist to come up with a treatment plan that works for them.

Drug therapy isn’t a preferred method of treating sarcopenia; however, some medications can be prescribed in some cases, such as:

  • Urocortin II: Shown to stimulate the release of a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) from the pituitary gland. Administered through an IV, this is usually given to those in a cast to prevent muscle atrophy. This is still under study and isn’t a widely used treatment for sarcopenia.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): As a woman’s production of hormones decreases at menopause, this can help to boost lean body mass, reduce abdominal fat and guard against bone loss. Again, this isn’t widely used because of possible increased risk of cancer.
  • Testosterone supplements
  • Growth hormone supplements
  • Medication for treatment of metabolic syndrome

Why We Lose Muscle Mass

The manifestation of sarcopenia occurs in the elderly, but the process starts a long time before any symptoms show up. From the time we are born to the time we turn 30, our muscles grow larger and stronger. But once we hit our 30s, we start losing muscle mass and function. That’s why it’s called age-related sarcopenia. In fact, physically inactive people can lose between three and five percent of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. But it doesn’t even matter if you’re still active. You can’t do anything about losing some degree of muscle mass. The statistics are startling: up to 50 percent of muscle mass can be lost by the eighth decade of life!

Knowing that muscle mass comprises 60 percent of body mass, pathological changes to this vital metabolically-active tissue can have significant effects on an older adult, especially one who is bed bound.

There’s really no proven way to test for specific levels of muscle mass loss that lead to a diagnosis of sarcopenia. Any time you lose muscle, it leads to decreased strength and mobility over time. Unfortunately, this decline of skeletal muscle tissue that comes with age is one of the top causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

If your loved one is in home health care or hospice and suffers from sarcopenia, it’s important to speak frequently with their team of doctors, therapists and nutritionists to help combat this. Contact us at 888-755-7855 to learn how the team here at Pathways Home Health and Hospice can help.