Two Studies Explore How Frailty Impacts Older Adults

Two new studies, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, highlight the risks of frailty among older couples and individuals.

The researchers found that frailty and depression may be intertwined in older couples and that frail older women who also have several other health problems tend to have a lower quality of life.

Frailty is a condition associated with aging that boosts the risk of poor health, falls, disability, and earlier death. It affects approximately 10 percent of people aged 65 and older. Signs of frailty include weakness, weight loss, slower walking speed, exhaustion, and low activity levels.

In the first study, researchers examined the relationship between frailty and depression in married couples.

They analyzed data from 1,260 married couples, aged 65 and older, that had been collected during the Cardiovascular Health Study. Although there has been sufficient research on the effects of frailty and depression on individuals, up until now, little has been known about how these two conditions may be connected within couples.

The researchers found that frailty and depression tend to affect one another in a perpetual cycle. The more frail an older person is, for example, the more likely it is that he or she will become depressed. Conversely, the more depressed an older person is, the more likely he or she is to become frail.

The findings also showed that people who were married to a frail spouse were likely to become frail themselves, and that people married to a depressed spouse were more likely to become depressed as well. The researchers also found that older husbands tend to be more depressed and frail than younger husbands and that older wives are more frail, but not more depressed, than younger wives.

The researchers concluded that frailty and depression symptoms may be intertwined for spouses. They suggest that senior living facilities might consider ways to increase couples’ engagement in physical activities, social activities, and mutual support.

In the second study,  a research team examined data from 11,070 frail women, aged 65 to 84, who were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study.

They found that older women who were frail, and who also had six or more chronic health conditions, were twice as likely to have a lower quality of life compared to women with less than three risk factors.

The risk factors that can worsen a frail woman’s quality of life and raise the risk for death are as follows: heart disease, diabetes, lower weight, believing oneself to be in poor or fair health, high blood pressure, smoking, older age.

In conclusion, the researchers suggest that managing chronic health problems well may help older, frail women enjoy a better quality of life.

Source: American Geriatrics Society
Elderly couple photo by shutterstock.