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UK health and social care costs due to muscle weakness amount to around £2.5 billion according to a new study carried out at the University of Oxford and the University of Southampton.

Scientists from the Botnar Research Centre at NDORMS and the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU, University of Southampton) examined the health and social care costs for individuals with and without muscle weakness who participated in the Hertfordshire Cohort Study (442 men and women, aged 71-80 years).

Muscle weakness and sarcopenia (accelerated loss of muscle mass and strength) are common among older people and are associated with higher risks of disability, frailty and premature death. They can also result in loss of independence and ability to perform the tasks of daily living.

The study, published in Calcified Tissue International and Musculoskeletal Research, showed that, on average, individuals with muscle weakness had health and social care costs that were £2707 per year higher than individuals without muscle weakness. This resulted in excess costs associated with muscle weakness of £2.5 billion per year for health and social care and £1.3 billion for health care alone.

In addition, the study found that a large proportion of the total excess costs (46%) was due to informal care (a valuation of the unpaid time family members and friends spent providing domestic or personal care at home).

Lead author, Dr Rafael Pinedo-Villanueva, Senior Researcher in Health Economics at the University of Oxford, highlighted that "with this study we not only estimate how much it costs the healthcare system and society in general to care for older adults with muscle weakness, but we also gain a better understanding about the healthcare services they receive, and their reliance on friends and family for the provision of care at home, which is often overlooked when assessing the economic burden of health conditions."

Muscle weakness was characterised using low grip strength (<26kg among men, <16kg among women) which was measured using a dynamometer. Grip strength is associated with upper body and overall strength. Information on primary care and hospital appointments, medications, as well as paid and unpaid care for each participant was obtained through questionnaires.

Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director of the MRC LEU, said: "Sarcopenia in older age is now recognised as a major public health problem. Lifestyle factors such as poor diet and physical inactivity as well as low birth weight (indicative of poor foetal environment) contribute to this condition. The substantial costs of muscle weakness demonstrate the importance of developing strategies to promote maintenance, and reduce loss, of strength in later life."

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