By Caring Times editor-in-chief Dr Richard Hawkins
Sarcopenia is the latest serious illness to be landed on the care home sector. A recent report in Age and Ageing said that 1 in 20 care home residents were likely to suffer from this previously never- heard- of condition. What then is sarcopenia? It is what you and I used to know as muscle weakness or frailty. Now however it has a grand name and we are warned that this serious illness might be associated with falls and even increased death. I am sure we are meant to be impressed.
It is, though, simply the latest in a trend towards giving fancy names to everyday conditions previously thought to be beyond the help of medical help but which are now treatable, thanks to some new and usually expensive treatment. The pharmaceutical industry has been active in discovering these new ‘illnesses’. So, sadness is rebranded as depression and of course requires active treatment with expensive anti-depressives. Shyness is branded as social phobia, and childhood naughtiness as hyperactivity or ADHD. A loss of interest in sex in men is called andropause and treated with the male hormone testosterone, and even women with similar sex disinterest are diagnosed as being ill and needing testosterone.
Big Pharma comes up with profitable new drugs to treat these ‘disorders’, drugs which psychiatrists and then GPs prescribe, sometimes richly rewarded by the pharma companies for doing so. In the last decade the use of such drugs has rocketed. By 2012 50 million prescriptions had been written for antidepressants alone.
Meanwhile the real underlying causes of behavioural problems and human misery are often left untreated. In the case of sarcopenia no pharmaceutical company is involved. However, the authors do say that treatment is at hand. They recommend exercise – no harm there, we have been doing that for years. But they also recommend short term nutritional intervention trials using proteins, essential amino acids, leucine or beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate although they acknowledge that that evidence from longer-term trials is sparse. Unquestionably some nutritional supplements companies are going to benefit from this advice. And care home owners will undoubtedly be under pressure to initiate a treatment for this serious new condition, sarcopenia – remember you heard it here first.
- The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.