Frailty syndrome: what is it and what are its causes?

Frailty is identified with a decrease in physiological reserve, which exposes older people to a high risk of contracting various diseases. Find out how to identify and treat it.

Last update: 03 February, 2022

Aging is a natural process of human beings. The changes that occur over time lead to an inevitable deterioration of physiological processes. This is related to frailty syndrome, whereby a person becomes more vulnerable to certain diseases and disorders of old age.

However, there is no single way to age. Aspects such as lifestyle and socioeconomic situation intervene in the process. Often the term fragility it is associated with older people, but there are several ways to define it.

Adjusted for those at higher risk of death. In addition, it is possible to identify some symptoms and carry out treatments to reduce the deterioration.

What is frailty syndrome?

The aging process unfolds in different ways around the world. In certain places, life expectancy is much higher than in others. This is due to various reasons, such as socioeconomic status, access to health and quality food.

These aspects translate into a higher rate of frailty syndrome in South American countries, compared to Asian or European countries. This syndrome is understood by experts as a decreased physiological reserve in the elderly. It is also common to relate it to a lower resistance to stress.

It is identified thanks to an accumulation of deficits in the physiological system. They range from weight loss to motor dependence, through an erratic gait that increases the risk of falls, injuries and hospitalizations.

Causes of frailty syndrome

It is a syndrome associated with aging and its effects on the physiological system. A deficit in physiological reserve makes a person more vulnerable to disease serious. In addition, it enhances and accelerates the deterioration process.

Although the passage of time is linked to a generalized loss of all body functions, frailty disposes the person to higher risks. This increases the chances of suffering from different disorders.

Medical professionals know that a person with frailty syndrome is more exposed to pathologies, so they take specific measures with these patients.


Symptoms and complications

It is related to frailty syndrome with different symptoms, which in turn increase the risk of suffering from more serious diseases:

  • Weightloss.
  • repeated falls.
  • Alterations in gait.
  • Poor self-perception of one’s own health.
  • Sarcopenia or decreased muscle mass.
  • Heavy medication use and frequent hospitalizations.

Identification of frailty syndrome is neither simple nor uniform, since it can manifest itself through a host of different conditions. But there are some patterns that increase the chances of suffering from it. These include being a resident of a nursing home and those who are cancer patients.

In addition, socioeconomic aspects intervene, such as low resources, advanced age and recent widowhood. People who are overweight or anemic are more exposed to frailty.

What do the studies say?

In general, those with frailty syndrome double the risk of death, which can be caused by various reasons. It also increases the possibility of suffering from a disability.

Different studies were responsible for better specifying what frailty is, as well as identifying common patterns. For example, one published in the specialized journal The Journals of Gerontologywho produced a table with 5 criteria associated with this disorder:

  1. Unintentional weight loss of 4.5 kilograms per year or more.
  2. Feeling of general exhaustion.
  3. Reduced walking speed.
  4. Low level of physical activity.
  5. Weakness and less strength.

Physical exercise and rehabilitation of frailty syndrome

Although it is a preventable disorder, factors linked to the health system of each country intervene. Although there are no specific rehabilitation programs, advances and benefits derived from physical activity were identified.

The frailty syndrome can be approached from multiple perspectivesbut exercise is one of the most effective methods to reduce functional disability.

Some possible benefits of playing sports in old age are the following:

  • Increased autophagy, regeneration mechanism at the cellular level.
  • Improvement of the cardiovascular system.
  • Increased strength and power.
  • Reduction of oxidative stress.
  • Promoting stability and flexibility.

Some healthy practices intervene in a favorable way so as not to suffer from this disorder. For example, do not fall into inactivity, exercise regularly and maintain a suggested weight according to metabolism. Falls and adverse drug reactions must be avoided, as they stimulate a vicious circle that increases frailty.

There are no specific treatments once established. Some specialists recommend long walks and others indicate more intense physical exercises, even in people over 80 years of age.

Long walks seem to be a valid alternative for those who suffer from this syndrome.


lifestyle influences

Although frailty is a syndrome under investigation and associated with inescapable pathologies of old age, there are some strategies that reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality. Among them, the adoption of a healthy lifestyle that includes the practice of physical exercise and a suitable diet.

This contributes to not entering the circle of fragility and deterioration. With an increasingly aging population, prevention becomes essential in this regard.

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