For frail older adults, the preservation of physical mobility, function, and ultimately independence is of highest importance. Sarcopenia, the degeneration of muscle mass, strength, and function with old age, is a significant part of physical frailty. Not only is it a critical risk factor for decreased mobility and the occurrence of falls and fractures, it is also directly associated with rates of hospitalization and long-term care admissions, heightened disability, diminished independence, quality of life, and ultimately leading to death. Research on nutrient intakes has grown due to it being a modifiable risk factor of sarcopenia. Specifically, protein, essential amino acids, leucine, and vitamin D intake are known as important factors in managing sarcopenia. Not taking enough protein and vitamin D can result in lower muscle mass, physical function and muscle strength, and a risk for falls and fractures.
The recommended daily intake of protein should be at least 1.0 to 1.2g/kg BW/day for healthy older adults and 1.2 to 1.5g/kg BW/day for elderly patients with acute and chronic illnesses. Moreover, because older muscles are less sensitive to low doses of amino acids, it is recommended that dietary protein should be appropriately allocated to at least 25 to 30 g of high-quality protein per meal with about 2.5 to 2.8 g of leucine, to encourage muscle protein synthesis.
Nutritional supplementation has the potential to be beneficial in the management of sarcopenia and thus prevent mobility dysfunction. A recent study hypothesized that a specific oral nutritional supplement can lead to enhancements in measures of sarcopenia. Older adult participants with sarcopenia underwent a 13-week intervention in which a vitamin D and leucine-enriched whey protein oral nutritional supplement was incorporated into their diet. The study found that this intervention improved the participants’ muscle mass and lower-extremity function. The study proves that specific supplementation alone could benefit older adult patients, especially those who cannot exercise. Long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living communities should strive to provide their patients with appropriate oral nutritional supplementation if they are suffering from or at risk of sarcopenia.