Britain could be facing a muscle-wasting epidemic in the elderly within the next thirty years, shocking research suggests.
Experts warn 63 per cent more pensioners could suffer muscle-wasting disease sarcopenia by 2045 – with women most affected.
Sarcopenia, a disease which causes muscle mass and strength to waste away, currently affects one in five European pensioners.
The condition affects the balance and gait of sufferers, leaving some unable to perform basic daily tasks.
The frailty caused by muscle-wasting can lead to life-changing or even fatal falls.
While ageing plays the greatest role, the disease is more common in pensioners who don’t keep active or eat well.
But as the population ages, the disease looks set to increase its heavy burden on the NHS.
Experts are now calling for health services to begin preparing for the ‘substantial’ increase.
According to new research, 20 per cent of European seniors, 19 million, have the disease – but the new research suggested this could jump to over 32 million by 2045.
Researchers studied figures from the Eurostat online database to predict the gender-specific population projections for 28 EU countries.
As Sarcopenia is so complex, there is no global consensus on how to diagnose it.
But the European Working Group on Sarcopenia in Older People (EWGSOP) has defined it as low muscle mass with low muscle strength, or, with low gait speed.
The researchers then assessed the age and gender-specific prevalence of sarcopenia according to EWGSOP’s definition.
They then used the data to predict how many over-65s would suffer from the disease from the highest to lowest threshold.
The highest level estimates by 2045 there will be 32,338,990, an increase of almost 64%.
And the overall prevalence of the disease in the elderly will rise from 20.2 per cent to 22.3 per cent in 2045.
Using this definition, they also found women account for 66.4 per cent of prevalent cases.
Even when they used the definition which provided the lowest estimate, the figures showed 8,699,527 people in the EU with sarcopenia could rise to 18,75,173 by 2045, a 72.4 per cent increase.
And the overall prevalence of elderly people with sarcopenia will rise from 11.1 per cent to 12.9 per cent in 2045.
The research was presented at the World Congress on Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases.
Dr Olivier Ethgen, from the University of Liège, said: “Regardless of which diagnostic cut-off is used to define sarcopenia, the prevalence of this condition is expected to rise substantially in Europe.
“It is therefore essential that we implement effective prevention and disease management strategies.
“Health authorities must take action in order to limit the impact on increasingly strained healthcare systems and to help Europeans enjoy healthy, active ageing.”