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An Asprin-A-Day
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Home >> Weakness And Fatigue  

 Weakness And Fatigue


One of the most common complaints that you hear from older people is of weakness. If serious underlying health problems such as anemia, thyroid disorder, diabetes, depression, or heart condition are excluded, the weakness may be caused by a sedentary lifestyle, a factor that can be corrected by increased activity and exercise. In fact, men lose a third of their muscle mass over their lifespan, and women lose somewhat less in the same period. The loss of strength and endurance can certainly be annoying and deflating to one's confidence and self-esteem. But it is possible to counter this tendency by paying attention to good nutrition and exercise.

On the other hand, no matter how many preventive measures you may try, getting a little weaker or less active with age is inevitable. And the process may serve a useful purpose: It is probably important to begin to limit activities that might otherwise result in serious injuries. Those who are older and have become rather unstable or who have significant thinning of the bones have to be more careful because a fall might result in more serious fractures, or even death. So if you find it harder to go rock climbing or hang-gliding, do not attempt it as it may have serious consequences. But, there is plenty that can be done about the problem of weakness or fatigue.


The greatest impact of fatigue is on human functioning and activity. When you do not have the strength or energy to move, even simple tasks become difficult. You become sedentary, your productivity drops and your motivation suffers. For some, this persistent weariness can be so debilitating that they cannot even get out of bed. Fatigue can take a toll on your mind. Thinking becomes difficult, slower and confused. Decisions are made slowly and after much thought. Even your outlook on life turns gloomy. The result is that fatigue can lead to poor work performance, less interaction with family and friends and less participation in sports and activities. That is bad news if you are used to being an active person. But the good news is that with a little detective work, you can almost get to the source of the problem and reclaim your vim (energy) and vigour.


One of the main reasons that older people feel weak is that they slip into a sedentary lifestyle or allow themselves to be trapped by boredom. But there are some easily applied antidotes to these enemies of high-energy living.

1. Develop strategies to combat sedentary living: With inadequate physical activity, muscles begin to lose strength, and they tend to feel weaker and weaker. Exercise is one of the best available strategies to counter this decline in muscle strength and endurance. Many times, extra exercise is exactly what is needed. You can embark at any age on a programme to build up your muscles and increase your aerobic lung capacity. The more exercise you do, the more likely you are to increase the energy and enthusiasm in your life.

2. Learn creative ways to combat boredom: Another common cause of weakness and fatigue in older people is boredom. Many of the people who have these complaints are retired, and lack a regular daily schedule or activities to keep them interested and involved in life. As a result, they begin to feel useless and may start suffering from depression. A chronic sense of weakness or fatigue is a natural consequence of this process. Compulsory and unwilling retirement is one of the greatest geriatric threats to our society. For many people, stopping work sets the stage for diminishing brain stimulation and loss of muscle strength. The best cure for such people is to have a part-time job of some sort. You should work a few hours each day, just to keep your mind and body active. If you do this your feelings of fatigue will disappear.

Of course, it is not suggested that overcoming fatigue as you age is always solvable by simple straightforward responses or strategies. Many times it is not enough just to go out and get a job, begin an exercise programme, or otherwise increase your involvement in productive or stimulating activities.
The chemical component of fatigue

Many components may combine to produce greater fatigue as we age, and some of these are probably related to changes that take place in our brains. For example, there is an enzyme in the brain called monoamine oxidase (MAO) that often increases in our brains as we age. The problem is that MAO reduces some of the chemicals or neurotransmitters in the brain, catecholamine, which at proper levels help keep us alert and up" neurotransmitters we have at our disposal, and more fatigued we may feel.
Obviously, not everybody has exactly the same trouble with this aging increase in MAO or with other brain changes. But many older people do seem to experience this difficulty, and the result can be an increase in feelings of weakness and fatigue. What can you do about these lethargic reactions if exercise, an increase in interesting activities, or other steps do not work? The answer to this is, if there is also some depression present, your physician may prescribe drugs that inhibit the MAO or otherwise alter neurotransmitter balance. With these, the neurotransmitters in your brain rise and your energy levels may increase.

Many physicians give small doses of antidepressant pills or psycho-stimulants to patients who complain of constant fatigue, and it may be that all these drugs work to increase the presence of stimulating neurotransmitters. Psycho-stimulants that may be prescribed for this purpose include small doses of amphetamines and the drug preferred is methylphenidate (brand name Ritalin).


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