Taking Action Against Frailty
Summertime presents seniors with an opportunity to become more active within the community and increase their well-being.
Fear of frailty is a growing concern not only for seniors, but also for the sons and daughters who are worried about the health of their older loved ones. The results of a recent national survey of seniors and adult children reveal that staying physically active is a major challenge for seniors. Lack of activity can lead to a downward spiral of poor health resulting in frailty, a condition that threatens the mind, body and social life of older adults, according to senior care experts. When seniors take action against frailty and increase their level of activity, they can improve their health and overall quality of life.
Oftentimes, seniors feel trapped in their homes because they are too weak to perform many of the activities they need to remain safe and independent. Staying active is vital to healthy aging because it helps seniors retain their independence and enjoy their daily lives. Differences in perceptions between family caregivers and seniors can make addressing these issues challenging for many families, but an increased awareness about these barriers can help facilitate conversation between both parties.
“Frailty can be difficult to define, but most know it when they see it,” said Stephanie
Studenski, M.D., M.P.H., one of the nation’s foremost authorities and researchers of mobility, balance disorders and falls in older adults, and the director of clinical research for the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging. Medical professionals describe frailty as a syndrome of weakness, fatigue and decline in physical activity that may be triggered by hormonal or inflammatory changes or chronic disease states. For some, frailty results from a heart attack or stroke, while another senior might experience falls and weight loss.
Studenski and her colleagues conducted a series of focus groups with health care providers and family caregivers about how they perceive frailty in an effort to better identify the condition.
“I think the thing that was most striking to me was that many family members we talked with perceived that an older person is getting more or less frail based more on social and psychological factors rather than physical factors. Doctors, on the other hand, focused on the physical manifestations in an older adult,” she noted.
Dr. Studenski said that frailty can be both prevented and reversed by activity.
“One of the core ideas in aging is that there are underlying problems in the body’s self-correcting mechanism. For example, when a young person is bleeding, the body self-corrects by increasing the heart rate. But older adults, because of medication or health problems, may have lost the ability to self-correct by being able to increase their heart rate. Through activity, though, seniors can build both physical and mental reserves that can help their bodies better tolerate problems that come with aging.”
In a very real way, family caregivers who can encourage and integrate physical, mental and social activities in seniors’ lives are helping them ward off frailty and stay healthy. And that addresses seniors’ fears of losing their independence as well. This topic is at the heart of concerns voiced by families across the country. So how can you take action against frailty? Embrace the beautiful summer weather! Go for a walk, volunteer within the community or visit with family and friends. By participating in the activities that make life enjoyable, seniors can maintain their sense of independence and continue to live with purpose.