Condition: Geriatric muscle diseases include several conditions that affect older adults. The most common type is called sarcopenia, meaning a loss of muscle mass and strength. Much less common are muscle diseases caused by inflammation, infections, toxins, or genetic factors.
Background: More than 20% of people over age 70 have sarcopenia. The other types of muscle disease are less frequent and may occur at earlier ages. Statin drugs, which are taken by many people to lower cholesterol, can cause muscle disease in about 5% of those taking the medication.
Risk Factors: Sarcopenia is usually caused by poor nutrition or low activity. Other possible causes include chronic diseases and low hormone levels.
History and Symptoms: Muscle weakness may appear either suddenly, over weeks or months, or gradually over many years. If it appears suddenly, it may be related to other conditions or medications.
Physical Exam: The physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physician will try to find out which muscles are weak since the pattern of weakness may suggest the cause. The PM&R physician will also test reflexes and your ability to sense a pin prick or other stimulus. This is done to rule out problems that are brain-based rather than muscle-based.
Diagnostic Process: To diagnose muscle disease the PM&R physician will test your ability to move, stand up, walk, dress yourself, and do tasks that use your hands and fingers. Blood tests can show if you have inflammation, a genetic disease, or low hormone or vitamin D levels. A type of X-ray called DEXA, or MRI, CT, or ultrasound scans may also be done. Sometimes tests of electrical activity in the muscle, or a muscle biopsy may be done.
Rehab Management: The PM&R physician may recommend exercise or physical therapy and an improved diet which can improve strength and mobility. Depending on the cause, hormone therapy or anti-inflammatory drugs may also be used.
Other Resources for Patients and Families: Families can help by getting patients to take part in physical activities and exercise programs, and eat a healthy diet.