Today, scientists are investigating why muscles deteriorate with age, especially with the growing mass of baby boomers that is now confronting the body’s natural loss of muscle tone over time, according to Andrew Pollack’s article, “Doctors Seek Way to Treat Muscle Loss.” But doctors are not the only entity interested in helping curb this age-related issue: drug companies are developing drugs that build muscles or forestall their weakening without the notoriety of anabolic steroids, and food companies like Nestlé and Danon are exploring nutritional products with the same objective. Geriatric specialists are also trying to establish the age-related loss of muscles as a medical condition, known to some as sarcopenia. They equate sarcopenia to muscle, as osteoporosis is to bone, though it is not a proven medical condition yet.
Scientists related to the effort suggest patients and doctors need to be more aware that muscle deterioration is a major reason the elderly lose mobility and cannot live independently. A study cited by Pollack estimated that sarcopenia-related disability cost $18.5 billion in direct medical costs in 2000 alone. This is because some problems may be rooted in the brain and nervous system, which activates the muscles, so the toll it takes on the body can be severe and include hormonal changes, sedentary lifestyle, oxidative damage, infiltration of fat into muscles, inflammation and resistance to insulin. The best way experts suggest to combat this is with exercise, especially resistance training.
The National Institute on Aging (www.nia.nih.gov) is currently testing whether exercise can prevent disability in largely sedentary people, age 70 to 89. Currently, experts believe nutrition, vitamin D and high levels of protein can help. One simple test being conducted revolves around muscle strength and function, with doctors testing if their patients can walk 13 feet in four seconds, since any doctor can conduct the test without expensive medical equipment. Maintaining muscle is still a partial mystery to doctors, but Home Care Assistance Columbus has seen that a blend of strength-resistance exercise and balanced nutrition could be supplemented by “muscle drugs” that might be right around the corner.