If you've ever cared for an elderly relative, or visited a nursing home, you've no doubt seen so many older women suffering from clinical frailty. These women are everywhere in that environment, and your first impression is to help them enjoy a big meal. But they seem to just pick at their food. Frailty is a common geriatric syndrome characterized by unintentional weight loss, weakness, exhaustion and low levels of anabolic hormones which increases the risk of falls, hospitalizations, disability, and death.
These women stand to benefit from the first potential medical treatment for the condition, according to a study presented today by Penn Medicine researchers at The Endocrine Society’s 91st Annual Meeting. Ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, was administered to older women diagnosed with frailty. Those who received ghrelin infusions consumed 51 percent more calories than the placebo group, with an increase in carbohydrate and protein intake, not fat. Their growth hormone levels were also higher throughout the ghrelin infusion.
“As Americans are increasingly living into their 80s and 90s, we need to identify ways to prevent or treat common geriatric conditions, such as unexplained weight loss and frailty, which have serious health consequences,” said senior author Dr. Anne Cappola at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “We’re gaining a better understanding of the hormonal changes that occur as we get older and, with treatments like ghrelin, we can start intervening to prevent some of the common health problems that keep elderly people from living their most productive lives.”
At this time, these agents are only available for research use. It is our hope that we'll soon see these compounds available for these elderly patients.