Understanding sarcopenia with Md PhD Sandra De Breucker

08 Dec 2022

In this episode of Mintt Academy, Sandra De Breucker, Head of Geriatrics of the Erasmus Hospital tells you more about how to better understand sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia literally means loss of flesh, when translated from Greek. It is in fact the age-related wasting of muscle mass that occurs as a result of physiological factors. You lose about 30% of your muscle mass between the ages of 20 and 80. And you add to that the non-physiological consequences of diseases such as cancer, respiratory failure or heart failure, patients will lose their muscle mass more rapidly. This will, at some point, lead to muscular insufficiency. That, in turn, can lead to an increased risk of falling, weakness, a feeling of permanent tiredness, a lack of desire for daily activities and therefore a loss of autonomy and quality of life.

To be able to identify sarcopenia, we must pay attention to three parameters. The first is muscle strength. If you see that your relative can no longer open a sealed bottle of water, this is probably the first warning sign. He or she does not have enough strength to open sealed bottles. That is the first means of assessing the situation.

The second is to assess the amount of muscle mass. We don't know how to do this without using technology. But we can already see if the person is losing weight. If we start to see deeper gaps between the fingers or muscles in the legs or arms, then sarcopenia is probably setting in.

The third characteristic is the physical consequences of sarcopenia. When they lose muscle mass, people find it more difficult to move and may slow down their walking speed. If a person says that they no longer feel like going out because they feel tired at the slightest effort or if they have really slowed down their walking speed, these are factors that are indicative of sarcopenia. This condition needs to be identified early.

Indeed, if it is treated early, it can be stopped and even the muscle function of the elderly can be improved. This is an important message just because you get older doesn't mean you don't build muscle mass anymore. You can still do it, even if it's a bit more complicated: for the same amount of protein ingested, there will be less muscle synthesis, but it is still possible. We must therefore give the appropriate advice to be able to halt sarcopenia.

The first piece of advice is to maintain regular physical activity. What is regular physical activity? In everyday life, it means going out at least three times a week to do a dedicated physical activity. Cleaning the house doesn't count! You have to get out of the house, go for a walk, go swimming, play tennis, etc. One hour at least three times a week. That's the first piece of advice

If you already have sarcopenia, you should go a little further: you should exercise every day for at least half an hour to increase muscle synthesis. Once the physical activity is done, it's time to ingest enough protein so that the muscle, which is still warm, says to itself: "I'm going to get bigger". With the ingested proteins, the chances of building muscle mass will increase.