Source: Medicare Made Clear
Frailty is a clinical condition first defined in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences in 2001.1 Frailty may be present if a person experiences three or more of the following:
- Low physical activity
- Muscle weakness
- Slowed walking speed
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- Unintentional weight loss
Frail adults may appear tired, thin and listless. They may have many medical problems, and recovering from illness or physical set-backs could be difficult. A bout with the flu or a broken hip may become life-threatening for the frail. There may also be a greater risk of becoming disabled or dependent.
Who Does Frailty Affect?
About 5 percent to 10 percent of people over age 65 are frail, according to a 2013 article in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association (JAMDA).2 Most are over 80 years old and most are women, partly because women live longer than men. Smoking, depression, long-term medical problems and being underweight seem to increase the likelihood of becoming frail.
Ask the following questions to find out if frailty may be a concern for you or a loved one. Three or more “yes” answers suggest that you should see your doctor for further assessment.
- Are you fatigued?
- Do you have difficulty walking up one flight of steps?
- Are you unable to walk more than one block?
- Do you have more than five illnesses?
- Have you lost more than 5 percent of your weight in the last 6 months?
- How Is Frailty Treated?
One approach to treating frailty is to address the underlying causes of its symptoms. Fatigue, for example, may be caused by depression, anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency, or thyroid or adrenal disorders. These may be treated with medications. However, certain drug side effects and interactions may contribute to frailty. So treatment could involve adjusting or eliminating some prescription drugs.
Frailty may also be treated by addressing the symptoms directly with lifestyle changes. Muscle weakness may be improved with daily walks and simple strength exercises. Regular meals and proper nutrition may help achieve a healthy weight.
The key is to recognize frailty and to do something about it.
How to Help Prevent Frailty
The following preventive steps are offered in a 2006 Journal of the American Medical Association Patient Page:
- Maintain good nutrition with a balanced diet including fruits and vegetables, fiber, fluids and enough protein to maintain muscle mass.
- Get some physical activity every day. Walking can help improve heart fitness, balance and muscle mass. Strength exercises using light weights or resistance bands may help build muscle, reduce joint stiffness and ease pain.
- Keep the mind active. Crossword or number puzzles, reading, playing games and socializing can help maintain mental sharpness. (See our post on How to Build Brain Health.)
- Recognize and treat medical problems as well as depression and other psychiatric illnesses.
Talk to your doctor and ask to be screened if you're concerned about frailty. Your annual Wellness Visit is a good time to bring up your concerns. The visit is covered by Medicare Part B at no additional cost to you. You do not have to accept frailty as a natural part of aging.