By Dr Georgia Page
As the world’s population ages, the pursuit of healthy ageing becomes an increasingly important societal goal.
Frailty is a common condition that often accompanies the ageing process and is characterised by a loss of physical and sometimes mental functioning, making individuals more vulnerable to poor health outcomes. This includes increased incident of falls, fractures, disability, and hospitalisation. Understanding frailty and its relationship with healthy ageing is essential for promoting the wellbeing of older adults and improving their quality of life. Early intervention can help people stay healthy, active and at home for longer.
What is frailty?
Frailty by definition means ‘weak and vulnerable’. In older adults, it refers to the loss of physical, cognitive, or social ability to recover from illness or stressful events. The risk of frailty increases with age and can affect up to 25% of adults aged over 70. Frailty is more common in females.
Common characteristics of frailty include;
Weight loss – unintentional weight loss can occur due to inadequate calorie intake, poor nutrition, inadequate protein intake and muscle loss.
Fatigue – feelings of extreme tiredness and exhaustion even with minimal physical or mental exertion.
Reduced physical activity – due to physical limitations frail people tend to become less active which can further exacerbate their frailty.
Slowness – frailty can lead to a decrease in physical speed and reaction time, making movement slower and less coordinated.
Weakness – frail individuals often experience a loss of muscle mass and strength, which can make even simple tasks challenging.
It is important to recognise that not all older adults become frail, but by preventing, identifying and treating frailty early we can keep people active and healthy for longer, and keep them out of hospital. One key to promoting healthy ageing and reducing frailty is regular medical checks ups. Routine visits to healthcare professionals allow for early detection and management of chronic conditions which are more prevalent in older people. Health professionals can also screen for frailty and develop a management plan depending on each individual persons needs and goals.
Strategies to promote healthy ageing and reduce frailty can include;
Physical Activity: Regular exercise is a cornerstone of healthy ageing. It helps maintain muscle strength, balance, and flexibility, reducing the risk of physical frailty. Activities like walking, swimming, and strength training can be tailored to an individual’s capabilities and preferences.
Nutrition: A balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass and cognitive function. Adequate hydration is crucial, as dehydration can exacerbate frailty symptoms. Misuse of alcohol also contributes to frailty.
Cognitive Stimulation: Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as puzzles, reading, and learning new skills, can help prevent cognitive frailty and promote brain health.
Social Engagement: Maintaining a strong social network is critical to combatting social frailty. Regular interactions with friends and family, as well as participation in social groups or clubs, can provide emotional support and a sense of belonging.
Regular Health Check–ups: Routine medical check–ups can help identify and address health issues early, preventing them from progressing to a point where they contribute to frailty. Most medical practices offer yearly government funded health assessments for people aged 75 and over, to review and co–ordinate your medical, psychological and social needs.
Falls Prevention: Implementing safety measures in the home, such as removing tripping hazards and installing handrails, can reduce the risk of falls in frail people.
Medication Management: Older adults often take multiple medications, increasing the risk of adverse drug interactions. Regular medication reviews with healthcare professionals and pharmacists can help optimise treatment while minimising side effects.
Emotional Wellbeing: Managing stress, anxiety, and depression is essential for overall wellbeing. Access to mental health services and a supportive social environment can aid in emotional resilience.
Sleep: Quality sleep is crucial for physical and mental health. Establishing healthy sleep habits and addressing sleep disorders can improve overall wellbeing.
Holistic and Team based approach: Recognising that frailty is a multidimensional syndrome, a holistic approach to care that addresses physical, psychological, and social aspects is essential. The use of a team of allied health professionals, such as exercise physiologists, practice nurses, physiotherapists, dietitians and psychologists, are effective strategies in reducing progression to frailty.
In conclusion, frailty is a complex syndrome that can impact the ageing process but is not an inevitable outcome of growing older. Healthy ageing is attainable through a combination of physical, mental, and social strategies. By promoting these strategies and emphasising preventive measures, society can work towards ensuring that individuals can age with dignity, resilience, and a higher quality of life. As the global population continues to age, the importance of understanding and addressing frailty in the context of healthy ageing cannot be overstated.
Dr Georgia Page enjoys all aspects of general practice and has been working at Your Family Doctors at Erina for the past 12 years. The practice has a fabulous team and they pride themselves on delivering good quality health care, with that special personal touch. For more information call 4365 4999, check the website www.yourfamilydoctors.com.au or like them on Facebook.
Stepping on program – https://www.activeandhealthy.nsw.gov.au/home/stepping-on/
Frailty prevention exercise program options in NSW https://www.activeandhealthy.nsw.gov.au/
Healthy eating to stay strong and independent https://aci.health.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/724483/ACI-Healthy-eating-to-stay-strong-and-independent.pdf