‘Frailty’ is a term that’s used a lot, but is often misunderstood. When used properly, it refers to a person’s mental and physical resilience, or their ability to bounce back and recover from events like illness and injury.
What is frailty?
The term frailty or ‘being frail’ is often used to describe a particular state of health often experienced by older people. But sometimes it’s used inaccurately.
If someone is living with frailty, it doesn’t mean they lack capacity or are incapable of living a full and independent life. When used properly, it actually describes someone's overall resilience and how this relates to their chance to recover quickly following health problems.
In practice being frail means a relatively ‘minor’ health problem, such as a urinary tract infection, can have a severe long term impact on someone’s health and wellbeing.
This is why it is so important that people living with frailty have access to well-planned, joined-up care to prevent problems arising in the first place – and a rapid, specialist response should anything go wrong.
Frailty is generally characterised by issues like reduced muscle strength and fatigue. Around 10% of people aged over 65 live with frailty. This figure rises to between 25% and a 50% for those aged over 85.
Frailty isn’t the same as living with multiple long-term health conditions. There’s often overlap, but equally someone living with frailty may have no other diagnosed health conditions.
Living with frailty
Someone living with frailty may need to adapt how they live their life, and find new ways to manage day to day tasks. This can be true for their family too.
Frailty can also profoundly challenge someone's sense of self and change how they are perceived and treated by others, including healthcare professionals.
People living with frailty are more likely to experience public and private services that are not geared to their needs. They can be particularly vulnerable to the consequences of poor quality healthcare and services that fail to connect.
Understanding the lives of older people living with frailty
This resource explores the everyday reality and experience of frailty. The report spends time with older people living with frailty in their own homes, exploring the challenges they face and some of the barriers that prevent them from getting the most from their care. It captures their experiences in a series of short films exploring key themes.
Frailty: Language and Perceptions
This resource explores the challenges around language and perceptions of frailty amongst older people, carers and healthcare professionals.
A Practical Guide to Healthy Ageing
There are practical steps people can take at any age to improve their health and reduce their risk at frailty. A Practical Guide to Healthy Ageing aims to provide advice to people around the age of 70 and above, but can be helpful to people of any age.
Outcomes for people living with frailty
It's important that people living with frailty have access to proactive, joined-up care to maximise health and wellbeing and prevent problems arising in the first place. Equally important is access to rapid, specialist services in the event of a health crisis.
There's good evidence to support working with individual older people and their families to put in place care and support plans tailored to meet individual needs, based around people's own goals and preferences.
I'm Still Me ...a narrative for coordinated support for older people
This resource explores what is most important to older people and proposes ways of making sure health and care services are working to meet those expectations through a series of 'I' statements.
Standard Set for Older Persons
The International Consortium of Health Outcome Measures worked with experts to develop a Standard Set for Older Persons which can be used by health and care services to assess and monitor outcomes for older people living with frailty. A full open access paper on the process is also available.