New tip sheet highlights frailty

Photo by Mark via Flickr.

Frailty is an emerging global health challenge, but it’s not an inevitable consequence of aging. Whether or not a person is frail can often mean the difference between living independently or having to move to a congregate setting like a nursing home. Many clinical trials often exclude frail elders, making it more challenging for practitioners to accurately assess how drug or interventions might work.

Frailty status is important for journalists to bear in mind as they report on clinical studies, programs or therapies for older people. For example, frailer adults may have more limited cognitive or physical reserve or have greater difficulty understanding information. They may require a modified approach — or even several interviews to complete the story.

Numerous home and community services are designed specifically to assist frail elders, so it’s also important to clarify exactly who these interventions target. As this new tip sheet describes, someone is considered frail if they show at least three of the following:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Low physical activity levels
  • Fatigue
  • Slow walking speed

About 15% of non-nursing home residents are considered frail according to the above criteria. Another 45% are regarded as pre-frail. That’s when they meet one or two of the criteria and have a strong likelihood of progressing to frailty. Pre-frailty can even occur in adults in their 50s and 60s, according to researchers at Columbia University.

Frailty has a huge impact on health care costs, quality of life, and is only expected to worsen as more people live into older age. This tip sheet will help you understand some of the condition’s ramifications and connect you with resources and experts who can help put it in context.

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