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  • Cameron Oglesby

Growing older doesn’t have to mean growing frailer

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

According to a 2015 John Hopkins University study, about 15 percent of adults 65 and over are frail.

And according to Dr. Linda Fried, geriatrician, dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public health and a pioneer in the medical study of frailty, this means that they live with at least three of the following conditions:

  • Low physical activity

  • Weak grip strength

  • Low energy

  • Slow walking speed

  • Non-deliberate weight loss

Another 28 to 44 percent of older adults, with two of these markers, are pre-frail, according to Dr. Fried and colleagues’ research.

Chronic conditions including diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and stroke can double the risk of frailty, while dementia can multiply it tenfold.

“Loss of bone and muscle with advancing age represent a huge threat to loss of independence in later life,” the National Institutes of Health report. Osteoporosis increases the risk of fragility fractures, particularly of the hip, spine and forearm, while loss of muscle mass increases the risk of falls (which can lead to factures).

What’s worse, at a time of life when protein is important, too many older people eat too little of it, for reasons like cost, loss of appetite or sense of taste, chewing or swallowing difficulty, or mobility issues that make shopping and cooking harder.

This is why, before suggesting specific services, we conduct a thorough, three-part assessment of a client’s physical, psychosocial and mental status – including such factors as current health condition and diagnoses, medication regimen, nutritional needs and diet, mobility, and much more. Then, and only then, do we present a comprehensive, holistic, coordinated care plan. To find out what a difference that can make, please call or contact us to arrange a comprehensive consultation.

Bone and muscle loss with aging is only natural, but frailty itself doesn’t have to be either inevitable or totally irreversible. A healthy diet with enough lean protein, enough sleep, managing chronic conditions, and a good amount of exercise and resistance training to (re)build muscle mass can help stave off frailty.

Foods like yogurt, milk and leafy greens like spinach are good sources of calcium and vitamin D for stronger bones. Walking outdoors a few times each day and low-impact, older-adult-friendly exercise can build up muscle strength. Most Medicare Advantage Plans offer free Silver Sneaker membership in nearby gyms and health clubs.

This kind of nutritional and exercise approach can be good for family caregivers as well as the senior they’re caring for. “If you’re helping someone to eat well, you should also eat well,” says Dr. Fried. And taking exercise breaks together can also help prevent caregiver burnout. “Caregivers have to work on promoting their own health and preventing frailty and other health problems,” she adds. “Ultimately it will help the person they’re caring for if they’re feeling better.”

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