A group of researchers shed light on the reasons why older adults experience muscle loss, and therefore become frail and weak. Their findings suggest that muscle wasting in older adults comes as a result of changes in the nervous system. Researchers report that when a person turns 75 years old, he or she has 30 to 50 percent less nerves controlling his legs. This disconnects part of the muscles from the nervous system and renders them useless. Deprived of their normal functions, the muscles start wasting away.
This is why older people’s leg muscles get smaller and weaker, and they become frail and disabled. This is not so with healthy muscles, whose nerves create new branches that can save detached muscle fiber. Older adults with large, healthy muscles enjoy this protective mechanism. It shields them from sarcopenia, or loss of muscle tissue, a condition found in 10 to 20 percent of people over 65.
Researchers can’t explain why muscles and nerves stay healthy in some seniors, and weak in others. But the fact remains that seniors need to build muscle mass to maintain balance, prevent falls, and bounce back from illness faster. Regular exercise is important. It strengthens aging bodies, and allows seniors to stand, walk, and sit without using canes and wheelchairs, or asking others for help.