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But it's not just a byproduct of aging: Frailty is a standalone medical condition, researchers report.
Sadly, the condition is associated with a lower quality of life and a higher risk of death, hospitalization and institutionalization, they noted.
And while frailty is most common among older adults, young people can become frail if they have one or more disabling chronic diseases.
In their study, the researchers analyzed 46 studies of more than 120,000 people aged 60 and older living without assistance in 28 countries. They concluded that 4.3% of people in that age group develop frailty each year, and that women are more vulnerable than men.
The findings "suggest that the risk of developing frailty in older people is high. This is a worldwide problem and highlights a major challenge facing countries with aging populations," said study co-leader Richard Ofori-Asenso. He's from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
More than 20% of the world's population will be older than 60 by 2050, so the number of people with frailty is expected to rise.
There is no firm definition of frailty, but it's typically diagnosed when people meet three of the following five criteria: low physical activity, weak grip strength, low energy, slow walking speed, and non-deliberate weight loss.
Luckily, interventions such as strength training and protein supplementation may help prevent or delay the progression of frailty, according to the researchers. A previous study found that it may even be possible to reverse frailty.
In a university news release, Ofori-Asenso and his colleagues called for "regular screening to assess older people's vulnerability to developing frailty so that appropriate interventions can be implemented in a timely manner."
The study was published Aug. 2 in JAMA Network Open.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Monash University, news release, Aug. 2, 2019