Frailty is a significant threat among the elderly, particularly women, but it is not an inevitability and interventions should be undertaken to keep it at bay, experts say.

Frailty is a distinct medical condition, not necessarily a result of old age, that involves more than 4% of individuals 60 or older each year, wrote Richard Ofori-Asenso, Ph.D., of Monash University, Australia. If not prevented, it leads to higher odds of disability or death.

In a meta-analysis of worldwide studies involving 120,000 people, Ofori-Asenso and colleagues found frailty to be associated with falls, a lower quality of life and higher risks of death, hospitalization and institutionalization. 

“This is a worldwide problem and highlights a major challenge facing countries with aging populations,” Ofori-Asenso said.

He recommends that older adults be regularly screened to assess their vulnerability to frailty. Strength training and protein supplementation have been shown to help prevent or delay its progression. In fact, in previous studies, the authors have found evidence that frailty may be reversed.

To date, there is no strict definition of frailty, but clinicians tend to regard it as a condition that meets three out of the following five criteria:

  • Low physical activity
  • Weak grip strength
  • Low energy
  • Slow walking speed
  • Non-deliberate weight loss

The study was published in the July issue of JAMA Network Open.