Muscle Loss in Older Adults and What to Do About It
By Roger Fielding
Older adults are at much higher risk of death from COVID-19 than their younger counterparts, but many also face another, less recognized health risk associated with the pandemic: loss of muscle mass. This loss is one of the primary reasons for falls—the number one cause of accidental death in those 65 and older.
Also known as sarcopenia—from the Greek “sarco,” meaning flesh, and “penia” referring to deficiency or poverty—loss of muscle mass and strength is common among elders, but starts as early as our 30s. Poor diet is a risk factor for sarcopenia; so is physical inactivity. Now, with gyms closed and community centers on lockdown, many older people are arguably more sedentary than ever.
I lead a team of scientists who study the role of physical activity and diet on sarcopenia at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. Every day I am struck by how this condition affects patients. Not only can sarcopenia lead to falls; it can also lead to social isolation resulting from the falls, which can have a cascade of negative health consequences on older people. This is yet another example of the devastation caused by the pandemic.