Growing older often means getting tired faster and moving slower than before. But some older people become very weak, and everyday activities become hard to do. This may be a health problem called frailty.
Frailty is more than just "slowing down." An older adult may be "frail" if a combination of these two things is happening:
People who are frail may have trouble doing everyday tasks—going shopping, getting dressed, getting in or out of bed, or using the toilet. They may feel weak and off-balance and worry about falling.
Experts think frailty develops because of changes in how the body works. These body changes are more likely to happen when a person has certain other health problems, such as diabetes or dementia. These other health problems can cause frailty to get worse quickly.
People who are frail are more likely to have depression and to get infections. And it's much harder for them to recover when they get sick or injured.
Encourage your loved one to keep up as many healthy lifestyle habits as possible.
Food provides calories, which provide energy and can help stop weight loss. Encourage your loved one to:
Talk to the doctor about exercises to help build your loved one's strength and balance. Examples include:
If your loved one often feels tired, he or she may not feel like going out or seeing people. But it's important to connect with others and stay positive.
Encourage your loved one to:
People who are frail don't recover as well from injuries, so preventing falls is very important.
People who are frail often are taking medicine for other problems. It's important to review those medicines regularly with the doctor to make sure they're not causing side effects that can make frailty worse.
When a loved one is frail, everything takes longer because he or she is moving more slowly.
Plan ahead, knowing that you'll need extra time. For example, going to a restaurant or a doctor's appointment may take longer because it's harder for your loved one to get to and from the car.
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Other Works Consulted
Boockvar KS, Meier DE (2006). Palliative care for frail older adults:
"There are things I can't do anymore that I wish I could ... ." JAMA, 296(18): 2245–2253.
Chou CH, et al. (2012). Effect of exercise on physical function, daily living activities, and quality of life in the frail older adults: A meta-analysis.
Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 93(2): 237–244.
Fried LP, et al. (2003). Frailty. In CK Cassel et al., eds., Geriatric Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 1067–1076. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Gill MG, et al. (2006). Transitions between frailty states among community-living older persons. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(4): 418–423.
Smit E, et al. (2012). The effect of vitamin D and frailty on mortality among non-institutionalized US older adults.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Published online June 13, 2012 (doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2012.67).
Sternberg SA, et al. (2011). Identification of frailty: A systematic literature review. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 59(11): 2129–2138.
August 7, 2012
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
& Carla J. Herman, MD, MPH - Geriatric Medicine
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