We tend to think of frailty as another aspect of normal aging for some seniors characterized by loss of strength, fatigue, low body weight and generally being in failing health. Although doctors identify it as a medical syndrome that affects 5 to 10 percent of seniors over 70, according to a New York Times New Old Age blog post, there hasn’t always been general agreement about the definition of frailty or the screening process. But a new consensus from six international medical organizations says that doctors should screen all adults over 70.
The post cites one author of the consensus statement, John Morley, a geriatrics professor at St. Louis University, who reports that currently only geriatric specialists consistently evaluate older adults for frailty. Dr. Morley suggests more rigorous screening should be standard because there are some very effective treatments for frailty. Fatigue, which is a symptom, can also be the result of depression, thyroid disorders, anemia or vitamin B12 deficiencies and responds to medications and other treatments. Also muscle weakness, another sign of frailty, can be treated with aerobic exercise with resistance training.
Weight loss is often a red flag for frailty in the elderly. But dietary supplements like Ensure shakes can help seniors put on or maintain their healthy weight. Frailty in those with chronic health conditions and presenting with dizziness, fatigue or disorientation might require an evaluation and possible adjustment of their medications.
Dr. Morley says caregivers and family members can identify frailty by asking the five screening questions below:
- Are you fatigued?
- Do you have difficulty walking up one flight of steps?
- Are you unable to walk more than a block?
- Do you have more than five illnesses?
- Have you lost more than 5 percent of your weight in the past six months?
Other tests suggested and included in the consensus statement are questions about how fast the senior is able to walk, grip strength, amount of physical activity and if there are any memory issues.