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Muscle Weakness in the Elderly

Sunday, September 12, 2021

When you serve as a CDPAP caregiver, you’ll encounter various challenges. Muscle weakness is one of the most common challenges since it affects many older adults. It’s vital to know what muscle weakness is, why it occurs, and how to reverse it. You’ll also need to learn what you can do as a CDPAP caregiver to /help.

Let’s begin by taking a closer look at sarcopenia.

What Is Sarcopenia?

As you age, your body’s composition changes. That includes significant muscle loss that starts after the age of 30. At that point, you can expect to lose 3-5 percent of your muscle mass every 10 years. That adds up, with muscle mass decreasing by around 30 percent for most men over their lifetimes.

Sarcopenia is the medical term used for the age-related loss of muscle mass. As you can imagine, this leads to a decrease in muscle strength. However, it does not appear to impact muscle function. Thus, you can still use your muscles the same way, but you won’t be as strong.

There are also some additional causes of muscle weakness.

What Causes Muscle Weakness in the Elderly?

Loss of muscle mass naturally occurs when people age. However, additional factors can contribute to muscle loss. Fortunately, you have control over some of the causes, starting with immobility.

Immobility

If you are a caregiver, it’s important that you keep your loved one as active as possible. Immobility causes the muscles to break down quickly, reducing the person’s strength.

It’s even worse if the patient is on prolonged bed rest. Muscle strength can reduce by as much as 30 percent after staying on complete bed rest for a week.

The reduced muscle strength can make it hard to maintain an active lifestyle. That’s one reason it’s so hard for older adults to recover after prolonged bed rest. They have to build their muscles back up so they can get active once again.

Bad Diet Habits

As people age, it becomes more difficult for them to eat balanced meals. Older adults often deal with:

·        Taste changes

·        Appetite changes

·        Teeth problems

·        Gum issues

·        Problems swallowing

Also, those who don’t have caregivers might have problems buying groceries and preparing meals. Without the proper foods, the muscles will break down faster, causing weakness.

You can help your loved one prevent significant muscle loss by preparing high-protein, nutritious meals. Each meal should contain between 25-30 grams of protein. This amount of protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis, so the muscles can stay strong or get stronger.  

Inflammation

Your body’s inflammatory response is essential for healing and recovery. However, some diseases lead to chronic inflammation. With normal inflammation, the body heals by tearing down and rebuilding damaged cells. However, chronic diseases cause long-term inflammation that disrupts the system, causing muscle loss.

These diseases include:

·        COPD

·        Rheumatoid Arthritis

·        Inflammatory myopathies

In addition, chronic low-grade inflammation is a normal part of the aging process. This low-grade inflammation affects muscle protein synthesis and breakdown.

While you cannot stop the aging process, you can treat inflammation to reduce muscle loss. Speak to your loved one’s physician about ways to manage the inflammation to preserve the muscles.

Stress on the Body

If your loved one has a medical condition that puts stress on the body, he or she is at high risk for muscle loss. Conditions that can cause muscle loss include:

·        Chronic liver disease

·        Chronic heart failure

·        Chronic kidney disease

·        Cancer

Also, undergoing cancer treatments can accelerate muscle loss.

Now that you know the risk factors, let’s go to the common symptoms of muscle weakness.

Symptoms of Muscle Weakness

If you think that your loved one is suffering from muscle weakness, look for the signs. First, you’ll notice that your loved one has difficulty lifting things.

Difficulty Lifting Things

Even if your loved one requires a caregiver, he or she likely still lifts some objects. For example, your loved one might reach for the pickle jar during lunch. Experiencing difficulty lifting normal objects is one of the earliest signs of advanced muscle loss. Therefore, if you notice your loved one struggling, you need to address the muscle weakness.

General Weakness

Even if your loved one doesn’t lift anything, he or she can demonstrate weakness in other ways. You might notice that everything takes a bit more effort for your family member. He or she might:

·        Walk at a reduced speed

·        Get tired easily

·        Lose interest in activities

It’s hard to want to join in activities if you’re constantly tired. That, in turn, can lead to mental health issues, including depression. Over time, muscle loss can become isolating because of the lack of energy and depression.

Weight Loss Without Dieting

Have you noticed your loved one losing weight without dieting? If he or she isn’t restricting calories, but the weight is melting off, it could be due to muscle wasting. This condition can get much worse if left untreated.

The symptoms of muscle loss are pretty frightening. Fortunately, you can take steps to reverse sarcopenia.

How to Reverse Sarcopenia

Your loved one can slow down or reserve sarcopenia by building muscle mass. That begins with exercise.

Exercise and Keep Muscles Active

Exercise will help your loved one keep the muscles active, reducing muscle loss. While all types of exercise are helpful, some sort of resistance training will be the most effective. With resistance training, the muscles have to work against another force. This can build up muscle mass.

In fact, high-intensity resistance training can help people make significant changes quickly, as researchers have proved. In one such study, Dr. Maria A. Fiatarone and other researchers evaluated nursing home residences. All participants were at least 90 years old.

The residents underwent high-intensity resistance training for eight weeks. In the end, the residents experience, on average:

·        174 percent gain in strength

·        9 percent increase in mid-thigh muscle mass

·        48 percent increase in walking speed

You need to rest the muscles after resistance training. For example, if your loved one works his or her arms, he or she will need to rest that muscle group for at least two days. This will give the muscles time to recover so they can continue to strengthen.

If your loved one can handle small weights, that’s a great way to build up muscle. You can also use resistance bands or even have your family member push against a chair or the wall.

Fitness training is also an important part of reversing or slowing down muscle loss. Various studies, including one in mice, have found that aerobic exercise can reverse sarcopenia. The key is to mix aerobic exercise with strength training to get the best results.

Walking can also help reverse or slow down muscle loss. While slowly walking won’t do much to increase muscle mass, walking with weights, walking at different speeds, and walking up hills engages and builds muscles. Thus, it can help your loved one get stronger.

If you have a treadmill, you can use the incline feature to build muscles. If not, just go outside and tackle the hills in the area. If you do this, make sure your loved one is safe. For instance, if your loved one cannot walk without an assistive device, you’ll need to bring a walker along.

With the right types of exercise, your loved one can take strides to reverse or slow down sarcopenia. Adding some foods into the diet can help as well.

Foods That Build Muscles

You can keep your muscles strong by eating the right foods. Some foods do an excellent job of building muscles starting with protein.

As you learned earlier, eating 25-30 grams of protein with each meal is critical for building and maintaining muscle mass. Your loved one can find protein in a variety of foods, including:

·        Lean meats

·        Edamame

·        Cottage cheese

·        Greek yogurt

·        Lentils

·        Milk

These are just some food choices to help your loved one eat more protein.

In addition, some studies have shown that vitamin D increases muscle strength and builds muscle. This is especially true in people deficient in vitamin D, which is common in those with sarcopenia and the elderly population.

While you can increase vitamin D through foods such as fortified milk, supplements are typically the best route. Even though supplements are sold over-the-counter, older adults should speak with their physicians before taking them.

Creatine can also help people build muscles. In fact, it’s so effective that numerous bodybuilders take creatine supplements to bulk up. If you’re caring for an elderly loved one, bulking up isn’t your goal. Fortunately, creatine can also help those dealing with sarcopenia build muscle mass.

Red meat and seafood contain creatine. Your loved one can also take creatine supplements if approved by the doctor.

While supplements and seafood might be good sources of creatine, your loved one should avoid eating red meat. The benefits of increasing the creatine intake do not outweigh the risks of red meat. Eating red meat:

·        Increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks

·        Potentially increases the risk of getting cancer

Now that you have an overview of muscle loss, it’s time to see how you can help as a CDPAP caregiver.

How a CDPAP Caregiver Can Help Patients With Muscle Weakness

If your loved one has sarcopenia, you can help. First, take your family member to his or her physician for a medical evaluation. After examining your family member, you can discuss exercise plans and supplements.

Find out if your loved one is cleared for aerobic and strength training exercises. Also, find out what precautions you should take during the exercise. For instance, the doctor might limit the intensity of the activity or only clear your family member to exercise with assistive devices.

Then, discuss building muscles through food. The doctor can evaluate all of your loved one’s medicines and tell you if you should stick to a meal plan or add supplements into the mix. If you do include supplements, you’ll need to monitor your family member for potential side effects. While supplements are generally safe, they can interact with other medications, causing side effects.

After you speak to the doctor, you can develop a plan to help fight back against muscle weakness. First, create an exercise schedule with the goal of your loved one moving every day. If your loved one is medically cleared, he or she can engage in:

·        Two days of strength training a week

·        Three days of aerobic exercise a week

·        Two days of walking a week

Even if your family member can exercise alone, you can help by participating. With your help, your loved one will stay motivated and even get to the point of being excited about exercise. Also, you can ensure your loved one stays safe by being there for support.

You can also help out during mealtimes. Since protein is so important, be sure to add it to each meal. Then, have your loved one eat the protein first. Then, your family member will be certain to get in the necessary protein, even if he or she doesn’t clean the plate.

Finally, monitor your loved one’s progress. Pay attention as he or she lifts normal objects to see if it’s getting easier. Also, watch your loved one walk. Is he or she getting faster, and does it take longer to get fatigued?

These are signs that your loved one is improving. Point them out to help motivate your family member. When people see results, they’re more likely to stick to the plan.

Address Muscle Weakness Head On

If your loved one is experiencing muscle weakness, you can help reverse some of the symptoms. With the right diet, exercise, and supplements, your family member can rebuild some muscle.

Remember, you are a partner in your loved one’s care. He or she will be looking to you to find out what to do, so create plans for meals and exercise, so you can help your loved one recover.