“Frailty is widely misunderstood,” says Dr. John Muscedere, Scientific Director for the Canadian Frailty Network (CFN). “People assume that frailty is just something that is going to happen as we get older, but frailty is not an inevitable part of aging.”
Frailty is often unrecognized and commonly attributed to getting older. Luckily, Canada is a leader in frailty research and ways to identify it. What we know is that while frailty can affect people of any age, it is increasingly common in adults aged 65 plus and affects over half of those over the age of 80. It strikes women more than men, is more common among people of lower socio-economic status and First Nations communities. Common symptoms of frailty are low physical activity, weak grip strength, low energy, slow walking speed and/or unintentional, rapid weight loss.
The hallmark of frailty is that it increases the risk of severe, adverse medical outcomes and even death from minor stressors like the flu or a fall. People living with frailty may require frequent visits to emergency rooms, often require assistance with daily activities or need long term care. Severe frailty is often associated with people approaching their end of life.
“Today in this country, there are approximately 1.5 million Canadians who are medically frail. By 2030, that number is estimated to grow to over 2 million,” says Dr. Muscedere. “This takes a terrible toll on those affected, and also on their family and friend caregivers. Plus it adds a significant strain on the healthcare system. We need to find a way, together, to reduce the number of people who become frail.”
That challenge, to reduce the number of people who become frail, is one that has been embraced by the Canadian Frailty Network (CFN). CFN has launched a public health awareness campaign, one that literally spells out how we can reduce the risk of becoming frail, take control of our health and AVOID frailty.
Staying active is one of the best ways to stay strong and healthy into old age. Choose activities that strengthen your muscles, challenge your balance and get your heart beating.
As we age, our body’s ability to fight infection is reduced. Vaccines are safe and effective. Important vaccines in older individuals are an annual flu vaccine and shingles and pneumonia vaccines.
1 in 4 older Canadians take as many as 10 different types of medication. Multiple medications may interact and cause side effects. Have your health care provider or pharmacist review ALL of your medications annually, including over the counter and herbal supplements.
Evidence suggests that social isolation can accelerate physiological aging and may contribute to frailty. Older adults with strong social relationships enjoy a better quality of life and often live longer. It is important to maintain social connections as you age and important to make new ones as your living circumstances change.
Diet & Nutrition
Food is medicine! As we age, we need more of certain nutrients like protein, calcium and vitamin D to keep our muscles and bones strong. Good food and proper nutrition can reduce the risk of frailty and may improve your quality of life.
The main message is this: Frailty is a medical condition that is not an inevitable part of aging. With attention to the 5 AVOID components we can not only reduce the risk of becoming frail but also increase our quality of life in the process. Along with appropriate health and social care, the AVOID strategy can also reduce the progression of frailty in older Canadians already affected. Remember, AVOID is a short acronym that may make a large difference as you get older.