15 June 2024

Malaysian elderly lost muscles quicker than others in the developed nations


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Aging populations affect many countries in the world and Malaysia is no exception. As a person ages, they will experience a decrease in muscle strength, mass and quality. This in turn, will lead to greater physical disability and functional limitation amongst the aging population. Research findings show that physical disability and functional limitation is common amongst the aging population of Malaysia. Though the rates appear to be much higher than that of developed countries, it is still comparable to other middle-income developing countries. These findings will provide important information that will benefit appropriate prevention and intervention strategies.

The world’s population is growing older. At the present, developing nations such as Malaysia are experiencing far more rapid growth in their aging populations than developed nations.

This is a problem as physical disabilities and functional limitations tend to be much more common amongst the elderly.

As such there is a need to study this issue in order to gain a better understanding of how to prevent or alleviate it.

Prof. Dr. Noran Naqiah Hairi of the University of Malaysia had studied physical disabilities and functional limitations amongst the elderly and their relationship with loss of muscle strength, mass (sarcopenia) and quality (specific force).

As part of the Concord Health and Aging Men Project (CHAMP), Prof. Noran and a team of researchers studied the correlation between muscle change and physical disabilities and functional limitations amongst elderly men living in Sydney, Australia.

From this, they have determined that muscle strength serves as the single best measure of age-related muscle change for use in clinical practices and thus has a strong relationship with physical disabilities and functional limitation.

Though studies similar to CHAMP have been conducted in developed nations, similar research is not as prevalent in developing countries (despite their rapidly growing aging populations) leading to much sparser data.

Prof. Noran sought to rectify this problem by conducting a study on Malaysia’s elderly population, determining the factors associated with physical disability and functional limitation in the Malaysian population, especially within the rural communities.

Prof. Noran Naqiah Hairi

Her research findings show that physical disabilities and functional limitations are not only common amongst older people in Malaysia, the rates appear to be much higher than in developed countries but still comparable to other middle-income developing countries.

Her results also show that women, the oldest old, those with chronic diseases, depressive symptoms and visual impairment are at greatest risk of disability and functional limitation.

Prof. Noran’s findings in both studies serve as vital information for creating appropriate prevention and intervention strategies.

These results will help Malaysian health care professionals (especially those working in rural areas) identify older people at risk of developing physical disabilities and functional limitations and thus, refer them to interventions aimed at reducing these conditions such as physical health programmes for the elderly (e.g. taichi).


  • Hairi, N.N., Bulgiba, A., Cumming, R.G., Naganathan, V., Mudla, I. (2010) Prevalence and correlates of physical disability and functional limitation among community dwelling older people in rural Malaysia, a middle-income country. BMC Public Health, 10, 492. https://dx.doi.org/10.1186%2F1471-2458-10-492
  • Hairi, N.N., Cumming, R.G., Naganathan, V., Handelsman, D.J., Couteur, D.G.L., Creasey, H., Waite, L.M., Seibel, M.J., Sambrook, P.N. (2010) Loss of Muscle Strength, Mass (Sarcopenia), and Quality (Specific Force) and Its Relationship with Functional Limitation and Physical Disability: The Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project. Journal for the American Geriatrics Society, 58(11), 2055-2062. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.03145.x