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Consortium releases diagnostic criteria for low muscle mass in older adults

April 28, 2014
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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Older adults who are plagued by low muscle mass often find themselves on a long, degenerative road of walking aids, drugs and mobility devices. Several national groups have pooled their resources to dig through thousands of data points to discover better ways to diagnose and define different stages of muscle mass loss, also called sarcopenia.

The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health Biomarkers Consortium Sarcopenia Project, which included members of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin diseases, studies data from nine different research projects of older adults, looking for indicators of grip strength and the muscle mass of the arms and legs. Researchers then used the data to develop a set of diagnostic criteria and measurable values.

As a whole, the nine-study data pool involved more than 26,000 adults, with a male average age of 75 and a female average age of 78.

“We know that compromised function related to low muscle mass and weakness can significantly impair the ability of older people to walk and to live independently,” noted Richard Hodes, MD, NIA’s director, in a press announcement. “These criteria, the first based on evidence from large population studies of older people, offer a way to better define and measure this problem so that we can eventually assess the effectiveness of drugs and other interventions for this disabling condition.”

The researches established three key indicators of loss of muscle mass, which could contribute to disability or death:

  • A slow walking speed (less than 2 feet, 7 inches per second)
  • A grip strength of less than 57 pounds for men and 35 pounds for women
  • A appendicular lean mass, or ALM, of less than 43 pounds in men and 33 pounds in women

Across the nine studies, researchers found clear correlations between muscle weakness and imparied mobility, emphasizing the importance of exercise to maintain good muscle tone.

The consortium’s research was published in multiple articles in the April issue of Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.