The conversations of life

Think that frailty is just an inevitable part of ageing? Think again, says science


In fact, age-related frailty is both treatable and preventable – just like heart disease, diabetes and obesity – according to a new study.

Frailty symptoms include fatigue, muscle weakness, slower movements, and unintentional weight loss, as well as psychological and cognitive symptoms such as isolation, depression and trouble thinking clearly.

These have been linked to falls, disability, infections, and hospitalization – all of which can lead to an earlier death.

Generally someone is diagnosed as being frail when they fit three or more symptoms and it’s estimated that between seven to 12 per cent of people aged 65 years and over and 25 per cent of those 85-plus suffer from frailty.

But the rate of ‘pre-frailty’ in people 65 and over is even higher – between 35 and 50 per cent – and most people just resign themselves to it.

But the study by the team at the University of Opole and the Opole University of Technology in Poland says a few simple changes can make a big difference.

Exercise and good nutrition is key

Unsurprisingly, age-appropriate exercise is top of the list to help elderly people stay fit. They say older people should also have their weight and diet monitored to avoid malnutrition.

But just as critical is the need to socialise, with loneliness and loss of purpose considered just as harmful.

The researchers refer to a study of a 10-year community-based intervention program in Japan that gave elderly participants regular check-ups and encouraged them to take part in group activities.

The result? The rate of disability for the group was lowered while their life expectancy at age 70 was significantly prolonged.

Interestingly, many of the younger residents who worked as survey interviewers said that it made them aware of the frailty problem, while other older residents became familiar with the idea of healthy ageing and improved their lifestyle.

The researchers say it’s important to prepare people for a longer life, rather than ageing – we have to agree.

With a background in nursing, Annie has spent over 20 years working in the health industry, including the coordination of medical support for international TV productions and major stadium events, plus education campaigns with a number of national health organisations. In recent years, she has also taken time out of the workforce to be a full-time carer, giving her first-hand experience of the challenges and rewards of this role.

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