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Frailty in Older Adults

Overview

Growing older often means getting tired faster and moving slower than before. But some older people become very weak, and everyday activities become hard to do. This may be a health problem called frailty.

Frailty is more than just "slowing down." An older adult may be "frail" if a combination of these two things is happening:

  • The person feels very weak and tired. He or she has no energy.
  • The person has been losing weight without trying.

What happens when an older adult becomes frail?

People who are frail may have trouble doing everyday tasks—going shopping, getting dressed, getting in or out of bed, or using the toilet. They may feel weak and off-balance and worry about falling.

Experts think frailty develops because of changes in how the body works. These body changes are more likely to happen when a person has certain other health problems, such as diabetes or dementia. These other health problems can cause frailty to get worse quickly.

People who are frail are more likely to have depression and to get infections. And it's much harder for them to recover when they get sick or injured.

How can you care for a frail older adult?

You can help care for a frail older adult by encouraging your loved one 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 your loved one to keep up as many healthy lifestyle habits as possible. These habits include:

  • Eating right.
  • Staying active.
  • Keeping the mind active.
  • Preventing falls.

Staying connected

If your loved one often feels tired, he or she may not feel like going out or seeing people. But it's important to connect with others and stay positive.

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 a loved one is frail, everything takes longer because he or she is moving more slowly.

Plan ahead, knowing that you'll need extra time. For example, going to a restaurant or a doctor's appointment may take longer because it's harder for your loved one to get to and from the car.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: December 7, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Carla J. Herman MD, MPH - Geriatric Medicine

 

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