Frailty, often assumed to be an inevitable part of ageing, may be prevented or delayed by a proper lifestyle and adequate physical, mental and social activities, researchers say. “Societies are not aware of frailty as an avoidable health problem and most people usually resign themselves to this condition,” said Jerzy Sacha from University Hospital of the University of Opole in Poland.
According to a review, published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, age-related frailty may be a treatable and preventable health problem, just like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The researchers reviewed over one hundred publications on recognising, treating and preventing frailty with the aim of raising awareness of this growing health problem.
Frailty encompasses a range of symptoms that many people assume are just an inescapable part of ageing.
These include fatigue, muscle weakness, slower movements and unintentional weight loss. Frailty also manifests as psychological and cognitive symptoms such as isolation, depression and trouble thinking as quickly and clearly as patients could in their younger years.
These symptoms decrease patients’ self-sufficiency and frail patients are more likely to suffer falls, disability, infections and hospitalisation, all of which can contribute to an earlier death.
But, as Sacha’s review highlights, early detection and treatment of frailty, and pre-frailty, may help many of the elderly live healthier lives.
Sacha’s review shows ample evidence that the prevalence and impact of frailty can be reduced, at least in part, with a few straightforward measures.
Unsurprisingly, age-appropriate exercise was shown to be one of the most effective interventions for helping the elderly stay fit.
Careful monitoring of body weight and diet are also key to ensuring that older patients are not suffering from malnutrition, which often contributes to frailty, according to the research.
Socialisation is another critical aspect of avoiding the cognitive and psychological symptoms of frailty.
Loneliness and loss of purpose can leave the elderly unmotivated and disengaged, and current social programmes could improve by more thoroughly addressing intellectual and social needs, as well as physical.
Improved recognition of frailty as a preventable condition by both physicians and patients could contribute significantly to avoiding or delaying frailty, the researchers said.
“Social campaigns should inform societies about age related frailty and suggest proper lifestyles to avoid or delay these conditions,” Sacha said.
“People should realise that they may change their unfavourable trajectories to senility and this change in mentality is critical to preparing communities for greater longevity,” Sacha added.