Frailty—a Unifying Concept for Elder Care and Prevention


Today people are living longer, but they are not always in good health. Experts predict that the number of people who live past the age of 65 will increase exponentially by 2050. The number will increase from 461 million people presently  to 2 billion people. One of the largest issues with elderly people is their frailty, or the decline in their ability to stay strong as they age. With frailty, even small issues can cause serious health decline and result in falls, permanent disability, and even death. With an estimated 12 percent of people over 65 considered frail, it is important to know how to prevent frailty.

Frailty Defined

What does frailty mean? It means a lack of health and activity in an older person’s life that may make that person subject to cognitive decline, chronic disease, falls, and permanent disability. The following signs in an elderly loved one could signify frailty:


  • Excessive weight loss that is not intentional —typically more than 10 pounds in one year
  • Excessive weakness
  • The appearance of shrinking
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to have the same endurance as before
  • Less activity


Studies show that elderly people who show frailty by age 65 have an 18 percent higher chance of early mortality. Frailty can look obvious, such as a person with a cane. At other times, it is not so obvious. Cognitive decline and a compromised immune system are much more subtle signs of frailty.


Holistic Methods to Help

It might not be 100 percent possible to prevent frailty. However, there are ways elderly people and those who care for them can work together to prevent its onset. The following are simple ways to get started:


  • Prevent muscle mass loss. The largest issue with frailty is the weakness the body experiences. This is typically due to muscle mass loss. The best way to prevent this is for a person to be active as often as possible. Any movement helps. Of course fitness should start as early in life as possible, but it is never too late to start. A walk around the block, strength-based exercises based on capabilities, and age appropriate exercise classes all can help. The more a person moves, the less muscle mass he or she will lose.
  • Get the right nutrients. Eating now for health later is important. As the digestive system changes and the body starts to go through the aging process, eating can become more difficult. At the same time, it is still important for everyone to eat three nutritious meals per day. Focusing on whole fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and low-fat dairy provides the necessary nutrients for optimal health. Furthermore, Johns Hopkins University reports that people who eat a diet similar to this are almost 75 percent less likely to experience frailty.
  • Exercise the mind. The body is not the only thing that needs exercise; the mind needs it too. This could mean simple things like putting together jigsaw puzzles or doing word searches or crossword puzzles. Similar to a muscle, the brain is strengthened through use.


Helping an Elderly Loved One

Family members and caregivers do well to do all they can to keep an elderly loved one active. It is when the elderly sit around for a majority of each day, staring at a television or doing nothing at all, that frailty becomes a serious problem. Today there are many ways to stay active, whether the person is aging in place or is in assisted living. There are groups and activities through various senior centers and even park districts that can keep seniors on their toes. For busy family members, hiring a home health aide, nurse, or other professional to come in and check on an elderly one may be helpful. Such an investment ensures that the elderly loved one is moving, eating, and actively using his or her brain.


As people live longer, it is important to work on positively affecting their quality of life. One impactful way to do this is to combat frailty.




Clegg, A., Young, J., Iliffe, S., Rikkert, M. O., Rockwood, K.  (March 2, 2013). Frailty in Older People. The Lancet, 381(9868): 752-762. Available at Retrieved on July 25, 2016.


John Hopkins Medicine. Stay Strong: Four Ways to Beat the Frailty Risk. Available at Retrieved on July 25, 2016.


Young, H. (May 2003). Challenges and Solutions for Care of Frail Older Adults. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 8(2). American Nurses Association. Available at Retrieved on July 25, 2016.