What is Sarcopenia?



Sarcopenia is the progressive loss of skeletal muscle that comes with aging. Most people begin to lose modest amounts of muscle mass after age 30, but the resulting loss of strength increases exponentially with age. Sarcopenia is thought to play a major role in the increased frailty and functional impairment that comes with age.

Possible effects of sarcopenia include decreased muscle strength, problems with mobility, frailty, weak bones (osteoporosis), falls and fractures, decreased activity levels, diabetes, middle‐age weight gain and a loss of physical function and independence.

Barriers to Treatment

A significant body of research in recent years suggests that both behavioral and pharmacologic interventions have the potential to slow declines associated with sarcopenia and may be able to improve physical performance that has declined due to multiple diseases and conditions.

Major barriers to research and development of therapeutic interventions stand in the way, however. Currently, there is a lack of scientific consensus on clinical definitions that would allow physicians to detect, diagnose and treat sarcopenia and related functional decline. A lack of action at the regulatory level further impedes progress in research, innovation, and development of therapies to effectively treat or manage sarcopenia.

Through research and statistics already point to the need for interventions, treatments, and therapies for sarcopenia, little can be done until policymakers and the medical community overcome these barriers. This challenge is one of the major goals of AIM.

Why it matters

The progressive loss of skeletal muscle with diminished strength and endurance is a leading cause of impaired mobility and functional decline in older people. This condition is present in nearly half of the U.S. elderly population and leaves millions of aging Americans vulnerable to falls and fractures, hospitalization, loss of mobility, frailty, institutionalization, and death.

Mounting Costs to US Healthcare

The direct U.S. healthcare costs of sarcopenia are estimated at over $18 billion a year. A more complete assessment of muscle wasting and functional decline with aging would include the costs of functional disability, loss of independence, cardiovascular de-conditioning, and even poor glycemic control associated with type-II diabetes. Fully realized costs of decreasing capacities among older Americans amount to hundreds of billions of dollars annually and pose a growing burden for Medicare and Medicaid. With the Baby Boom Generation beginning to turn age 65 in January 2011, these numbers will increase dramatically.

The Human Toll

Those people living with sarcopenia and related functional decline face a diminished quality of life that leaves individuals unable to perform simple tasks of daily living. Individuals living with sarcopenia are at a dramatically higher risk of disability, resulting in often preventable hospital visits or even institutionalization. It is crucial that regulatory channels are opened fully to translate the innovation and promising research occurring now into effective therapies and treatment strategies.

The Facts about Sarcopenia:

A Booming Aging Population

  • According to the Administration on Aging, the US population age 65 and older increased to 40 million in 2010 (a 15% increase in one decade) and will grow to 55 million, a 57% increase, in the next 10 years. By 2030, driven by the Baby Boom Generation, the number of Americans over age 65 will have more than doubled in a 30-year period. (“A Profile of Older Americans 2010.” Administration on Aging. http://www.aoa.gov/aoaroot/aging_statistic/Profile/2010/4.aspx 28 Sept 2011)

Diminished Quality of Life for Older People

  • In 2000, 1.5 million people were institutionalized, and 33% of these people were admitted to long‐term health care facilities because of their inability to perform activities of daily living due to reduced mobility. (Thompson, D.D. (2007). Aging and sarcopenia. Journal of Musculoskeletal & Neuronal Interactions, 7, 344‐345.)
  • The risk of disability is 1.5 to 4.6 times higher in older persons with sarcopenia than in older persons with normal muscle.7 (Janssen I, Shepard DS, Katzmarzyk PT, Roubenoff R. The Healthcare Costs of Sarcopenia in the United States. Journal of the American Geriatric Society 52:80–85, 2004.)
  • Age‐related muscle weakness dramatically increases the risk for elderly falling. A large number of those elderly who fall will not continue living in the community. One-half of accidental deaths among individuals age 65 and older are related to falls. (McArdle, A; Jackson, MJ. Sarcopenia – Age‐Related Muscle Wasting and Weakness (2011), p. 318. Gordon S. Lynch (ed.). Springer Science.)

Skyrocketing Economic Costs

  • The United States spends more than $26 billion annually on additional health care costs for people over 65 who lose their ability to live independently over the course of a single year. (Alliance for Aging Research. The Silver Book: Chronic Disease and Medical Innovation in an Aging Nation http://silverbook.org/fact/31 29 September 2011)
  • Though sarcopenia contributes to numerous other health problems and accounts for a similar percentage of healthcare costs as osteoporosis, no public health campaigns are directly aimed at reducing the prevalence of sarcopenia. (Janssen I, Shepard DS, Katzmarzyk PT, Roubenoff R. The Healthcare Costs of Sarcopenia in the United States. Journal of the American Geriatric Society 52:80–85, 2004.)

Fact Sheet

Sarcopenia is an under-recognized, chronic health care challenge that represents a huge economic cost to our already burdened health care system, as well as a diminished quality of life for older Americans.

Learn more about sarcopenia and its costs. Download the Sarcopenia Fact Sheet