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Sudden weight loss may be a precursor to frailty

May 18, 2015
by Sandra Hoban, Managing Editor
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I’m sure you’ve all met someone like the 80-year-old woman who looks and moves like she’s 60. Or the 89-year-old guy who still plays 18 holes of golf every day. On the other hand, the woman and man who have experienced sudden weight loss and now have mobility issues, limited endurance or reduced intellectual capabilities may be your residents.

 Aging effects people differently. Burt Reynolds, 79, former macho actor and sex symbol, has been seen looking gaunt and using a cane, according to a Newsmax article. His current situation is not unlike that of many seniors. Sudden loss of muscle mass and weight can lead to increased frailty. Frailty, in turn, can put a senior at risk for falls, increase dependence on others for activities of daily living (ADL) assistance, which increases staff responsibility and costs.

Although Reynolds’ rapid weight loss is attributed to a combination of factors, including temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction, back surgery and a quintuple bypass, Michael Zimring, MD, an internist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, says that lifestyle has a big effect on how people age.

Smoking, according to Zimring, is the biggest factor in negative aging. The reduced lung capacity of smokers can lead to weight loss, he notes. Zimring cites other contributing factors to sudden weight loss as inactivity, an unhealthy diet or substance abuse.

Quick fixes to encourage weight gain don’t always work. “The only thing [protein powders] do is make the people who are selling them rich,” Zimring told Newsmax. He adds that Vitamin B12 shots only work if one is medically deficient in that vitamin.

How can a person stay active and strong as they age?  Zimring’s best advice is to exercise daily, eat healthfully and keep your mind active.

This is good advice whether you’re in your 30s or older.  It’s never too late to start the healthy habits that will support strength and vitality into the senior years.

May 27 is National Senior Health and Fitness Day. This year’s theme is “If You Keep Moving…You’ll Keep Improving.” This is a great time to educate residents and staff on engaging their bodies and their minds to ensure that their senior years will be an active and enjoyable experience.

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Sandra Hoban

Managing Editor

Sandra Hoban


Sandra Hoban has been on Long-Term Living’s editorial staff for 17 years. She is one of...