For many, spinal muscular atrophy begins in early childhood or even at birth; however, there are forms of the disease that begin in early to middle adulthood. The age of onset can play an important role when it comes to the severity of the disease, but regardless of when an older adult first sees symptoms, added care will be necessary in his or her later years.
According to the National Institutes of Health Genetics Reference page, spinal muscular atrophy, also known as SMA or muscular dystrophy, is a genetic condition that affects the muscles and causes weakness and atrophy. This means that the size and mass of the patient’s muscles is reduced. This leads to loss of control over certain muscle groups which in turn leads to loss of control over walking, swallowing, breathing, and even neck control.
Muscular Dystrophy Types
There are several different types of spinal muscular atrophy. They are classified based on when the symptoms first present themselves.
- Type I begins to show symptoms either at birth or within a few months of birth. It is one of the most severe forms of the disease.
- Type II typically develops in children between the ages of six months and one year. These children will not be able to stand or walk without assistance; however, they may be able to sit upright on their own.
- Type III begins sometime in the first few years of a child’s life or even into adolescence. This is a milder form of the disease. While these children can walk and stand on their own, as they age they will have more difficulties and may need the aid of a wheelchair.
- Type IV affects adults later in life. This form develops sometime in the late thirties to the late fifties. The symptoms will be less severe but can include some muscle weakness, twitching, and mild breathing issues.
Muscular Dystrophy Facts
Men are more likely to have the disease because it is an X-linked genetic illness. However, women can and do develop it, but often the symptoms are less severe in women. As women age, they can develop muscle cramps and twitches. This is more often the case after the age of seventy.
Muscular dystrophy in the elderly can affect the speech, as well as a person’s ability to swallow and chew. This can lead to choking and the gathering of liquid in the lungs, which can lead to infections. For this reason, it’s very important to keep a close eye on your loved one at meal times.
Another area that needs close attention is weakness in the limbs. You might first notice this when an older adult with SMA begins to have trouble walking up and down the stairs or can no longer walk through the mall or participate in their normal exercise activities. A time may come that a cane or even a wheelchair or scooter becomes necessary.
Spinal muscular atrophy in seniors can make other health issues just that much more difficult to deal with and keep in check. A SMA patient may need a little extra help in the home through supervision from loved ones, or a home health care helper, to keep them as healthy as possible and safe in their homes.