Interventions to ameliorate reductions in muscle quantity and function in hospitalised older adults: a systematic review towards acute sarcopenia treatment

Carly Welch, Zeinab Majid, Carolyn Greig, John Gladman, Tahir Masud, Thomas Jackson

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Assimilate evidence for interventions to ameliorate negative changes in physical performance, muscle strength and muscle quantity in hospitalised older adults.

We searched for articles using MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL and Cochrane library using terms for randomised controlled trials, older adults, hospitalisation and change in muscle quantity, strength or physical performance. Two independent reviewers extracted data and assessed risk of bias. We calculated standardised mean differences for changes in muscle function/quantity pre- and post-intervention.

We identified 9,805 articles; 9,614 were excluded on title/abstract; 147 full texts were excluded. We included 44 studies including 4,522 participants; mean age 79.1. Twenty-seven studies (n = 3,417) involved physical activity interventions; a variety were trialled. Eleven studies involved nutritional interventions (n = 676). One trial involved testosterone (n = 39), two involved Growth Hormone (n = 53), one involved nandrolone (n = 29), and another involved erythropoietin (n = 141). Three studies (n = 206) tested Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation. Evidence for effectiveness/efficacy was limited. Strongest evidence was for multi-component physical activity interventions. However, all studies exhibited at least some concerns for overall risk of bias, and considering inconsistencies of effect sizes across studies, certainty around true effect sizes is limited.

There is currently insufficient evidence for effective interventions to ameliorate changes in muscle function/quantity in hospitalised older adults. Multiple interventions have been safely trialled in heterogeneous populations across different settings. Treatment may need to be stratified to individual need. Larger scale studies testing combinations of interventions are warranted. Research aimed at understanding pathophysiology of acute sarcopenia will enable careful risk stratification and targeted interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberafaa209
JournalAge and Ageing
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2020


  • acute sarcopenia
  • systematic review
  • older people
  • interventions


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