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Frailty in Older Adults


Frailty is a health problem that happens to many older people. It means that a person's health is fragile. This makes it difficult for a person to heal from things like a fall, an illness, or surgery.

It can happen if a person:

  • Has had other health problems for a while, like diabetes or dementia.
  • Has trouble caring for themself, has fallen, or has been in the hospital a lot.
  • Has low energy or is too tired to do things.
  • Is losing weight without trying.

If someone has frailty, it may be hard to do everyday tasks, like shopping, getting dressed, eating, and bathing. The person may have trouble getting in or out of bed, using the toilet, climbing stairs, or getting out of a chair. They may feel weak and off-balance and worry about falling. They are also more likely to have depression.

Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about frailty.

What happens when an older adult has frailty?

People who have frailty have trouble healing from falls, infections, or other health problems. They can get sick very quickly. If frailty is not treated, it usually gets worse.

When frailty is treated, people often improve their health and become less frail. Treatment includes getting good health care, eating healthy foods, and being active.

Sometimes people with frailty are in the last stage of their life. Some people may want to work hard to feel stronger and live longer. Others may want to focus on being comfortable and enjoying what they can.

How can you care for an older adult who has frailty?

You can help care for an older adult with frailty by encouraging them to have a healthy lifestyle and stay connected. You can also monitor medicines and plan extra time when you go places together.

Having a healthy lifestyle

Encourage the person you're caring for to keep up as many healthy lifestyle habits as possible. These habits include:

  • Eating enough healthy foods.
  • Staying as active as they can.
  • Keeping their mind active.
  • Preventing falls.

Staying connected

If the person you're caring for often feels tired, they may not want to go out or see people. But connecting with others can help a person feel good. And it may help them stay healthier as they age.

Monitoring medicines

People who are frail often are taking medicine for other problems. It's important to review those medicines regularly with the doctor to make sure they're not causing side effects that can make frailty worse.

Planning for extra time

When someone is frail, everything takes a little longer because they move more slowly.

For example, it may take longer for them to get to and from the car when you go to a restaurant or a doctor's appointment. Planning more time for errands and other activities may help.

Understanding what is important

Make sure you know what is important to the person you're caring for. Sometimes frailty happens near the end of life. Talk to them about how they want to spend their time and how you can be most helpful.

Talking about advanced care planning

Find out what care the person would want if they can't speak for themself. And ask about who they want to make decisions for them, if it's needed.

Related Information


Current as of: September 25, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.


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