Frailty — the feeling of being weak, fragile, and having low energy — is not an inevitable part of aging; it is a medical condition all on its own, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open.

Frailty is tied to a lower quality of life and a higher risk of death, hospitalization, and institutionalization. The condition tends to occur among older adults, but even young people can be frail if they have one or more disabling chronic diseases.

The findings show that this condition has significant medical, social, and economic implications.

For the study, a research team from Monash University in Australia reviewed 46 studies to investigate the prevalence of frailty in 120,000 people over the age of 60 in 28 countries. It is the first global study to estimate the likelihood of community-dwelling older adults developing frailty.

The team, led by Dr. Richard Ofori-Asenso and Professor Danny Liew from the Monash School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, discovered that 4.3 percent of people over the age of 60 develop frailty each year. The results also show that women are more likely than men to develop frailty.

As more than 20 percent of the world’s population will be over 60 years by 2050, the number of people diagnosed with this condition is projected to increase.

The term “frailty” is used loosely to describe a range of conditions in older people. As of yet, there is no ‘gold standard definition of frailty, but researchers and 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.

Ofori-Asenso says “Our results suggest that the risk of developing frailty in older people is high. This is a worldwide problem and highlights a major challenge facing countries with aging populations.”

However, the news is not all bad. Interventions such as muscle strength training and protein supplementation may help to prevent or delay the progression of frailty.

Thus, the researchers emphasize the importance of “regular screening to assess older people’s vulnerability to developing frailty so that appropriate interventions can be implemented in a timely manner.”

Furthermore, in a previous study, the research team found that it may even be reversed, suggesting that the condition doesn’t have to be a lifelong diagnosis.

Source: Monash University