Frailty should be viewed as a reversible syndrome, congress fringe told

Recognise frailty as a clinical condition that needs to be managed, researchers say

Frailty is a clinical condition that should be recognised and managed, rather than an inevitable state that comes with age.

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Queen’s University Belfast researchers Gary Mitchell and Deborah Coleman call for fresh thinking on frailty at an RCN congress fringe meeting today.

Dr Mitchell said that once frailty is recognised as a condition, there are assessment tools readily available that can lead to better treatment and outcomes for patients in nursing and care homes.

Reversible syndrome

‘Frailty is a clinical syndrome, not a natural part of the ageing process,’ Dr Mitchell said. ‘It is associated with the ageing process, but it can be reversed.’

He said people over 65 have two long-term medical conditions on average, and while men aged 65 will live for 18 years and women for 20, they will, on average, have seven and nine years of poor health respectively, most of which can be accounted for by frailty.

Frailty may be exacerbated by:

  • Infections
  • Changes in circumstances
  • Kidney problems 
  • Reactions to medications

Dr Coleman said staff in nursing and care homes need ‘broad expertise’ to be able to spot frailty and intervene early.

She said older people in nursing homes are likely to have multiple morbidities and be vulnerable to frailty. She emphasised the importance of saying people ‘have frailty’ rather than they ‘are frail'.

Early identification

‘Early identification prevents people moving along the scale from being fit to having frailty,’ Dr Coleman said. ‘It affects all areas of life and is very expensive in terms of health and care services.

‘We need to reframe frailty as a long-term condition, and nurses need to think about it in every contact with an older person. Nurses are vital in the identification, management and care of people with frailty.’