Sarcopenia and frailty in geriatric patients: implications for training and prevention

Z Gerontol Geriatr. 2004 Feb;37(1):2-8. doi: 10.1007/s00391-004-0203-8.


Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass and strength, is a constant phenomenon in aging. Physiologic age-dependent changes (drop in growth hormone (GH), IGF-1, menopause/andropause) explain the impaired protein synthesis, the decline of muscle mass, strength, and bone density. Harmful consequences of sarcopenia in old age are loss of muscle strength, inducing itself loss of mobility, neuromuscular impairment, and homeostatic balance failure syndrome with gait and balance disorders. All these sarcopenia-induced disabilities are important factors for an increased rate of falls and fractures in old age. Both falls and fractures cause hospitalisation and immobilisation which again induces sarcopenia. Once the physiological age-dependent decline of protein synthesis has started, some connected "vicious loops" occur in frail elderly patients, forming a typical pattern in geriatric medicine. There is a vicious loop between sarcopenia and immobilisation: sarcopenia --> neuromuscular impairment --> falls and fractures --> immobilisation --> sarcopenia. Another loop is the "nutritional" vicious loop between sarcopenia and malnutrition: sarcopenia --> immobilisation --> decline of nutrition skills ("empty refrigerator") --> malnutrition --> impaired protein synthesis --> sarcopenia. There is also a third "metabolic" vicious loop between sarcopenia and the decline of the protein reserve of the body: sarcopenia --> decline of the protein reserve of the body --> diminished capacity to meet the extra demand of protein synthesis associated with disease and injury --> sarcopenia. Frailty, a term not precisely defined, results from these different "vicious loops" including sarcopenia, neuromuscular impairment, falls and fractures, immobilisation, malnutrition, impaired protein synthesis, and decreased protein reserve of the body. Implications for training: main possibilities for training and prevention (of sarcopenia and frailty) are: a) continuous neuromuscular training (including training of balance) b) mobilisation c) prevention of falls d) training of nutrition skills and improvement of nutrition e) improvement of the impaired protein synthesis (with hormones etc.), and f) avoidance of dangerous drugs (drugs which cause neuromuscular impairment).

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control*
  • Aged
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Frail Elderly* / psychology
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Immobilization / adverse effects
  • Immobilization / physiology
  • Muscle Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Muscle Weakness / etiology
  • Muscle Weakness / psychology
  • Muscle Weakness / rehabilitation*
  • Muscular Atrophy / etiology
  • Muscular Atrophy / psychology
  • Muscular Atrophy / rehabilitation*
  • Neuromuscular Diseases / etiology
  • Neuromuscular Diseases / psychology
  • Neuromuscular Diseases / rehabilitation
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Physical Education and Training*
  • Postural Balance / physiology
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / complications
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / psychology


  • Muscle Proteins