A large-scale survey of older Americans living at home or in assisted living settings found that 15 percent are frail, a diminished state that makes people more vulnerable to falls, chronic disease and disability, while another 45 percent are considered pre-frail, or at heightened risk of becoming physically diminished.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study found frailty to be more prevalent in older people and more common among women and the poor. In addition, the study found wide regional differences in the U.S., with older people in central southern states more than three times as likely to be frail than those in the western states. The researchers also found significant racial differences, with blacks and Hispanics nearly twice as likely to be frail as whites.
The study is published in the September 2015 issue of Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.
Frailty, once thought of as a generalized fragile state that befalls some people as they get older, is increasingly considered a medical process in and of itself. Frailty is thought to be exhibited by a set of symptoms including weakness, exhaustion and limited mobility. It often progresses separately from any underlying conditions, and is also common among patients with chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, especially in their advanced stages.
Understanding frailty, and finding ways to prevent its onset or slow its progression, could improve older people’s quality of life by extending their so-called robust years. It could also increase their chances of surviving surgery, for example; previous research has suggested that older, frail patients are less likely to survive major surgical procedures. Reducing frailty could lower health care costs, since frail persons are prone to falls and falls often lead to hospitalization. Hospital care is the largest component of Medicare spending.
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