Community support provider Uniting AgeWell has partnered with Victoria University to investigate therapeutic interventions for sarcopenia, including the benefits of resistance training in preventing the muscle-wasting condition.
Sarcopenia, or age-related lost of muscle mass and function, was officially recognised as a disease last month after years of being unrecognised and under-diagnosed.
The condition, which affects one in three people over the age of 65 who are still living in the community, can result in fatal falls, fractures, disability and hospital stays.
However many health professionals are unaware of the condition, which means it often goes untreated in clinical settings.
But aged care experts like Uniting AgeWell’s Regional Manager for Melbourne Amanda Mehegan are hopeful things will change now that sarcopenia has been recognised under international disease and injury standards.
Uniting AgeWell operates a number health and wellbeing related services and activities for older Australian’s including tailored gym programs.
The latest revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Australian Modification, used for diagnosis in all clinical and research settings, officially recognised sarcopenia as a disease in July.
Recognising sarcopenia will increase awareness and lead to more regular diagnosis and better treatment, Ms Mehegan says.
“Many older people living in the community could benefit from allied health and therapy services, like one-on-one strength training or group fitness classes, and this change will ensure more older people are referred to those valuable services,” she said.
“As an organisation committed to supporting older people to remain well and independent, we see this as a great step forward.”
Not just a part of getting old
About 1000 Uniting AgeWell clients are participating in a study led by Victoria University’s Professor Alan Hayes, to assess the effect of resistance training in reducing the incidence or severity of sarcopenia.
Professor Hayes, Deputy Director of the Australian Institute for Musculoskeletal Science, says recognition of the condition as a disease is important for a number of reasons.
“Firstly that losing muscle mass and function is not just ‘part of getting old’ but is a serious condition that deserves to be treated as such, with diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and follow up,” he told Community Care Review.
“The recognition will not only be (good for) members of the public that may have sarcopenia, but also for medical and allied health professionals that even if they have been aware of it, have not thought about its treatment.”
The move would also hopefully stimulate research into potential treatments, including both lifestyle and pharmaceutial interventions, he said.
“Preliminary results clearly show that sarcopenic muscles respond positively to exercise, with dynamic, resistance exercises the best option,” Dr Hayes said.
“Thus, yes, exercise in the form of resistance training needs to be part of the conversation and treatment guidelines for sarcopenia treatment.”
It’s also important to ensure high protein intake to maintain and build muscle mass, he adds.
The study, due to finish next year, is part of a broader collaboration with Dr Sandor Dorgo at the University of El Paso investigating the effects of strength and power training in older adults.