The number of adults aged ≥65 years in the UK increased from 9 million to 10.5 million between 1981 and 2011. Projections suggest that by 2023, older people will account for nearly 23 per cent of the total population. The promotion of healthy ageing has been a longstanding aspiration – with the aim for healthy life years to keep pace with increasing life expectancy.
For the individual, this translates into a need to characterise ageing in a systematic and standardised way. There is growing interest in the concept of frailty – a multi-system impairment which increases vulnerability to stressors. It is very common in older people (see figure).
Central to frailty is sarcopenia, which describes the loss of muscle mass and strength in older age. We recently described the occurrence of sarcopenia for the first time in the UK and found prevalences of 7.9% in older women and 4.6% in older men.
Sarcopenia is a major clinical problem for older people because it is associated with serious health consequences. Most importantly, muscle strength predicts future mortality in middle-aged as well as older adults.
To understand sarcopenia and frailty, we have developed a unique lifecourse approach that allows identification of the major health consequences as well as recognition of the important influences operating from conception to death.