Fighting frailty

By • Published: June 14th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Frailty is a condition, not a certainty. This is what researchers proposed in 2001, contradicting the belief that frailty was simply a characteristic of getting older. With one-fifth of Americans expected to be over 65 by 2030, they sought to understand why some older people are robust and active while others are weak and thin. As a result, frailty became medically diagnosable and symptoms were defined.

Sufferers usually experience multiple symptoms at one time, including muscle loss, fatigue, chronic inflammation, difficulty walking, weight loss and lowered physical activity. Frail older people are at a higher risk of falling, have a weakened immune system and a harder time recovering from illnesses, too.

Studies show that about 7 percent of women and 4 percent of men who are over 65 and live outside of hospitals or nursing homes are frail. The percentage increases with age, although the rates are usually higher for women since they live longer and have less muscle mass to begin with.

As people get older, muscle mass reduces naturally. Every decade after people turn 40, they typically lose 8 percent or more of their muscle mass. After age 70, the process accelerates significantly. However, it’s possible to stay healthier longer and manage frailty by staying active. Low-impact aerobic exercises, daily walks, swimming or around-the-house activities like gardening or cleaning are all ways to strengthen muscles and reduce the symptoms of frailty. For example, one study found that older women reduced their risk of a hip fracture by about 40 percent by working out for four hours a week. Research even shows that activity can benefit people with chronic conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis.

So whether you’re a card-carrying member of the AARP or whether you won’t qualify for decades yet, it’s never too early — or too late — to start fighting frailty.