Do Older Adults Grow Weaker As They Age? By Michaella Surat

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Introduction

Many people have experienced watching parents, grandparents, or other relatives grow old throughout their lives. As people age, some would argue that older adults grower weak but on the contrary, some argue that they are still just as physically capable as someone younger. Older adults growing weak with age is a common stereotype that older adults have to combat and fight through. Some contributing factors to older adults becoming weaker, in my opinion, are the increased risk of osteoporosis, sarcopenia, and the increased risk of falling. As age increases all of these have a higher amount of risks for different reasons. From individual reasons to medical reasons there are ranges all across the board leading to weakness as we age.

Osteoporosis

By definition, osteoporosis is a “degenerative bone disease more common in women in which bone tissue deteriorates severely,” (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2002). As the bone tissue deteriorates it becomes more likely for fractures and bone brakes to occur in these older adults, therefore making them weaker. Starting with weak bones you then become weaker in general so this supports the stereotype that older adults are weak. One study that helps support this is one that was done in 2009. Researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey over a period of 6 months. These researchers surveyed 1,830 men and woman all over the age of 60 near west Pennsylvania (Nayak, Roberts, & Greenspan, 2009). Their main goal and purpose of the study to show the problems and risks that are associated with osteoporosis along with how often undiagnosed and untreated it is. This can lead to further complications, which have the chance to make adults even weaker as they grow older. As age increases the more and more risk they lead in every aspect of life. Age is the strongest individual risk factor for osteoporosis,” (Nayak, et al.,2009). This alone explains how aging and growing old can create more problems in regards to bone tissue and osteoporosis; however, their findings from research support this as well. They found that height loss, prolonged oral steroids use, and low trauma fractures are all factors that can contribute to osteoporosis (Nayak, et al.,2009). With all of these factors being signs of aging and growing weaker, one can assume that osteoporosis and being weak are correlated, proving this stereotype true.

Another study looked into the effects of certain genetic markers related to bone and joint health. This study was conducted to see if there was a possible correlation between a specific genotype CASR and the decline of bone mineral density and osteoarthritis (a joint disease) (Alfred, et al., 2013). This study consisted of various cohorts, longitudinal studies, and blood examinations over several years, following these people throughout their life, to test their genotypes and phenotypes. They studied 12,836 people ranging from 53-90+. One main variable of this study that was tested that correlates with the stereotype that older adults grow to be weak is grip strength. This was measured using electronic machines that test your strength (Alfred, et al., 2013).

“We investigated associations between robust genetic markers of serum calcium, bone mineral density and osteoarthritis risk and measures of physical capability….We found marginal evidence for an association between rs1801725 (CASR) and grip strength, with carriers of the allele associated with raised serum calcium levels, identified from having lower grip strength” (Alfred, et al., 2013).

Through their findings they discovered there was a correlation between the genetic marker and grip strength, however, it was very minimally connected to bone mineral density and osteoarthritis. Even though the correlation was small between the allele for serum calcium and osteoarthritis, it still proves the argument that weakness grows with age. Bones, joints, muscles, and everything else slowly begin to weaken and become less attainable over time.

Sarcopenia

Sarcopenia is defined as the loss of muscle size, strength, and endurance that decreases over time (Burzynska, 2017). A specific group of 175 Japanese men and women ranging from 65-84 years old were studied to see a correlation between increased physical activity and sarcopenia (Park, Park, Shephard, & Aoyagi, 2010). Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies were conducted to measure this. Their physical activity was measured through questionnaires and a pedometer tracker that the participants would wear throughout the day to count their steps (Park, et al., 2010). Then to study the correlation between their remaining muscle mass and their physical activity they used and “X-ray absorptiometer” (Park, et al., 2010) which determined their muscle mass. “Sarcopenia (classes I + II) was defined as a value of muscle mass/height2 falling more than 1 standard deviation below the mean for a young and healthy reference population,” (Park, et al., 2010). In this study, they found a correlation highly related to the growth and strengthening of muscle mass particularly in the arms and legs. Meaning the chances of getting sarcopenia decreases as healthy physical activity increases. This shows that your muscles do in fact grow weaker over time and therefore you must compensate if you do not want the repercussions of sarcopenia. According to the study, the participants “were likely to exceed the proposed thresholds of muscle mass for a clinical diagnosis of sarcopenia”. This helps prove the stereotype of older adults being weaker to be true again because the majority of the elderly aren’t keeping up with vigorous physical activity daily for several different reasons. The loss of muscle mass and strength can negatively impact someone’s life if they are unable to have the strength to move around. This can cause stress in one’s life as this may bring burden onto them or others.

Falling

It is not a secret that falling is possibly one of the main correlations between older adults and severe injuries. The elderly fall for many reasons but this study looked into how muscle weakness plays a role into how frequent or why these older adults are falling. Muscle strength over time starts to decrease in adults so this study takes a look at adults 65 and older assessing them when they fall and a follow-up after (Moreland, Richardson, Goldsmith, & Clase, 2004). They were measured with raw data that examined their fall. Overall their findings were consistent with the other support for this stereotype. “This systematic review and meta-analysis indicate that lower extremity weakness is a clinically important and statistically significant risk factor for falls” (Moreland, et al., 2004). Meaning that muscle weakness is a critically important factor in older adults falling.

Conclusion

Through reviewing several research studies correlated to the progressive weakness of older adults, I have found my stereotype to be true concerning weakness in older adults. As people grow older there are more risk and complications in a lot of aspects. I have found that the only way to combat the progressive muscle loss is to proactively work to keep up with maintaining it. This can be a lot of hard work for older adults who have experienced injury, illness, or some diseases. Keeping up with being healthy and working your muscles can possibly increase longevity (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2002). Overall these older adults have the possibility to prevent muscle, bone, and joint deterioration in their later lives with simple lifestyle choices.

References

Alfred, T., Ben-Shlomo, Y., Cooper, R., Hardy, R., Cooper, C., Deary, I. J., . . . Day, I. N. (2013). Genetic markers of bone and joint health and physical capability in older adults: the HALCyon programme. Bone,52(1), 278-285. doi:10.1016/j.bone.2012.10.004

Burzynska, A. (2017). Lecture on Physical Changed with Age. Personal collection of A. Burzynska, Colorado State University, Fort Collins CO

Cavanaugh, J. C., & Blanchard-Fields, F. (2002). Adult development and aging. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.

Moreland, J. D., Richardson, J. A., Goldsmith, C. H. and Clase, C. M. (2004), Muscle Weakness and Falls in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 52: 1121–1129. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2004.52310.x

Nayak, S., Roberts, M. S., & Greenspan, S. L. (2009). Factors associated with diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis in older adults.Osteoporosis International, 20(11), 1963-1967. doi:10.1007/s00198-008-0831-8

Park, H., Park, S., Shephard, R. J., & Aoyagi, Y. (2010). Yearlong physical activity and sarcopenia in older adults: the Nakanojo Study. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 109(5), 953-961. doi:10.1007/s00421-010-1424-8

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