What is Frailty?

Posted on December 13, 2018 by kerri
Frailty isn’t just part of old age, according to the Canadian Frailty Network [1], and it’s also not just being at higher risk of broken bones. Frailty can affect multiple aspects of health and wellbeing in older adults, [1] and can lead to high risk of falls, hospitalization, disability and mortality. [2]
Photo credit to Bill Branson (Wikimedia)
Defining frailty
According to a study in the Journals of Gerontology, frailty was defined as meeting 3 or more of the following criteria [2]:
  • Unintentional weight loss—more than 10 pounds in the past year.
  • Exhaustion self-reported by the patient
  • Slow walking speed
  • Physical weakness (measured by hand grip strength)
  • Low physical activity.
Frailty is also considered to have a biologic basis and may “be a distinct clinical syndrome”. [2]
Who experiences frailty?
Older adults who have lower education and income, poorer overall health, higher rates of chronic disease and/or disability, and those who are African American are at higher risk of developing characteristics of frailty. [2] Frailty is not necessarily “synonymous with either comorbidity or disability” but rather frailty is an outcome of comorbid disease and disability is a potential outcome of frailty in some individuals. [2]
Preventing Frailty
Risk of frailty can be reasonably predicted [2], which means steps can be taken to prevent it from progressing—or developing in the first place. The most important aspect of preventing frailty is getting regular exercise, and continue to do so as you age. Muscle strength can lead to greater muscle efficiency, thus also preventing fatigue or exhaustion, in addition to physical weakness. [3] This may also positively impact walking speed. Medical ID jewelry can provide confidence for those with medical conditions while exercising.
For the prevention of frailty, some dietary changes are recommended. [4] Ask your doctor before making significant changes to your diet, in the event there are medical reasons why some changes should not be implemented. Some nutritional considerations helpful in preventing frailty include: low fat intake, low sodium intake, high calcium intake and calcium supplementation if needed, and high fibre diet from food sources like grains, fruits and vegetables, and ensuring adequate vitamin and mineral intake. [4] It is also important to moderate alcohol intake to a healthy level. [4]
Resources on frailty
As frailty is relatively common, resources on coping with or preventing frailty can be found in your community. In Canada, the Canadian Frailty Network provides resources and supports research related to frailty. Your doctor’s office or hospital is likely to be able to point you the right direction to local supports if you or a family member are working on addressing issues related to frailty.

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