Hand Grip in Seniors: It’s Not a Simple Problem

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Utah is home to thousands of seniors. According to government data, the number of people at least 65 years old will soar from 9.5% in 2012 to over 18% in 2060. Many of these will also age in place, which means their homes need to be fit for their changing bodies and needs.

For example, they might have to invest in a garage door opener in Salt Lake City or add handlebars in the bathrooms. After all, one of the common problems among this group is a weak hand grip.

When They Cannot Get a Grip

Contrary to popular belief, aging doesn’t mean frailty. Hundreds of older adults today live to be centenarians being strong and healthy. Unfortunately, most experience weakness that can manifest in many ways, including weak hand grip. Weak hand strength can happen for the following reasons:

1. Musculoskeletal Changes

Like mechanical equipment, the body eventually goes through wear and tear. The parts that work together like a well-oiled machine gradually become less efficient. One of the significant changes occurs in the musculoskeletal system.

The muscles, bones, and joints all work together to help a person become flexible, strong, and agile. For example, the joints allow the bones to be less rigid. The muscles can help provide a range of motion. When a person gets older, they become more prone to a problem called sarcopenia. It refers to the slow wasting away of muscles until they become weak.

2. Joint Pain

There’s a correlation between arthritis, or joint inflammation, and age. Due to aging, the joints experience a gradual breakdown that they end up touching each other. This friction can generate swelling, redness, and, of course, pain. When pain is present, the older adult might decide to use the affected part, such as the hands or limbs, less frequently. The lack of movement can worsen the risk of sarcopenia.

senior citizen

3. Less Absorption of Calcium

The body needs calcium to help strengthen the bones and joints, which store 99% of it. The problem is aging can also lead to decreased absorption of the mineral. This happens because the intestines, which absorb nutrients, become less optimal in doing so. The digestive tract is already less efficient in taking up calcium even before a person reaches 65 years old. Other factors can also contribute:

  • Decreased appetite and thus the intake of calcium-rich foods including dairy
  • Less exposure to sunlight (The sun can help produce vitamin D, which enhances the absorption of calcium)

How Declining Grip Strength Affects People’s Lives

The issue with a weak hand grip isn’t a trivial matter. It can affect the quality of life of the aging population. First, it can disrupt or interfere with their daily activities. They might already struggle with lifting themselves or objects. Simple tasks, such as opening garage doors, can be more painful.

It also increases the risk of accidents and injuries, such as falls. The data from the National Council of Aging (NCOA) revealed that a quarter of older people 65 years old and above fall annually. It is, therefore, one of the leading causes of injuries among the population. Falls can also kill with one senior dying from it every 19 minutes. The long-term effects, such as disability, can also be costly. For this year, the total healthcare spending for falls can reach over $67 billion.

The good news is that older people can improve grip strength with regular exercise and consumption of the right diet, including eating food high in calcium. When necessary, they can take supplements. They can also modify their homes, so they exert less effort and pressure on their weak limbs and hands. Frailty doesn’t need to define their life.

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