Frailty can be diagnosed in your middle age and lead to higher mortality risk

Frailty is something that’s commonly associated with old age.

But, research from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing has revealed the significance of frailty in middle age and the importance of diagnosing it early.

“Methods to identify frailty in clinical practice, as well as interventions targeting people with frailty, have almost exclusively concerned people aged older than 65 years,” reports a paper in ‘The Lancet’ in June 2018.

“Our findings indicate that there is a need for a change in focus, to start identifying frailty and intervene much earlier. The hope is, with earlier identification and intervention, frailty can be reversed in some patients,” said Lead Author of the study, Professor Frances Mair, Norie Miller Professor of General Practice.

Of 493,737 participants aged 37-73 years of age from the United Kingdom, three per cent were considered frail, 38 per cent pre-frail and 59 per cent not frail.

Frailty is based on five criteria:

  • weight loss
  • exhaustion
  • grip strength
  • low physical activity and
  • low walking pace.

Participants in the study were deemed frail if they met at least three of the criteria.

“Frailty has been found to be predictor of mortality, falls, worsening disability, hospitalisation and care home admission in cohorts of older people, but this is the first research to show that it can be an important issue for younger people too.”

“People with frailty are understood to be at higher risk of adverse health events, but previous research has almost always focused on older people. In our study we applied the test for frailty to a wider and younger group of people and found that the condition was present in people of all ages.”

“Although frailty should be a cause for concern when identified in middle to older aged people, it may be reversible, particularly if it is identified at an early age. Identifying frailty may have positive implications for care, planning interventions and a patient’s prognosis, particularly in individuals who have more than one underlying health condition,” said Doctor Peter Hanlon, Co-Author on the study.


Frailty associated with long-term health conditions

Frailty was recorded higher in people with long-term health conditions and is associated with age, female sex, obesity and being under-weight, smoking and socioeconomic deprivation.

According to the paper, the top-five long-term conditions associated with frailty are:

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Connective dead tissue and
  • Diabetes.


“In light of our findings, we suggest that an assessment of frailty should be incorporated into routine monitoring and assessment of people with multimorbidity, which may help identification of those at greater risk to ensure more accurate targeting of care,” concluded Doctor Peter Hanlon.

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