Doctors clinically define Frailty Syndrome as a common syndrome that is associated with vulnerability to poor health outcomes. However, what does that really mean to you as an adult with an aging parent? Frailty Syndrome essentially means that your parent is at a higher risk for falls and confusion after events that cause even small amounts of stress.
How Do You Know If Your Parent Has Frailty Syndrome?
Despite advances in understanding this syndrome over the past ten years there is no exact method for diagnosis. In 2011, the Johns Hopkins Hospital set five criteria for measuring frailty. They are:
- Low Grip Strength/Muscular Weakness
- Low Energy/Exhaustion
- Slow Walking Speed
- Low Physical Activity
- Unintentional Weight Loss
Each of these criteria has a score, which is based on a combination of testing by a professional and a self-assessment. Qualifying in three or more of these indicates that your parent has Frailty Syndrome. Qualifying for one or two of these criteria places your parent in the pre-frail category, which indicates that they are at a high risk for getting this syndrome later in their life.
What are the Consequences of Having Frailty Syndrome?
If your parent has Frailty Syndrome, there are risks beyond the higher injury rate. Frailty means that they are in worse health and will become ill more frequently. Compounding those effects, these illnesses will have a greater effect on them and they will be slower to recover. As an example, a common cold may leave a healthy parent with a case of the sniffles and a headache, from which they recover in a week. With a frail parent, that same cold may deteriorate into bronchitis or pneumonia. This is because their body does not have the reserves to combat the initial illness, leaving them vulnerable to further infection.
How Do You Get Frailty Syndrome?
Many different things can contribute to your parents becoming frail. One of the key factors that leads to this syndrome is a decrease in your parent’s living and operating space. This measures not only how big their home or room is, but also how large the area is where they regularly travel. A parent who travels more will tend to be healthier and less frail than a parent who stays in their home and rarely goes out. Other controllable factors include nutrition, regular exercise, and mental stimulation. The more of these that your parents receive, the lower their risk for becoming frail.
Is it Curable or Reversible?
Frailty is treated by diagnosing the pattern that causes the frailty. Patterns are the conditions that contribute to your parent qualifying for one of the criteria. For example, the “Low Energy/Exhaustion” criteria can be caused by under-nutrition. Your parents may neglect to eat regular meals because of decreased appetite. However, by ensuring that they eat regularly, this criterion can be reversed. There are specific treatments recommended for each of the five criteria that will require your active participation as well as your parent’s desire to recover.
As you and your parents grow older, the risk for getting Frailty Syndrome increases. However, the good news is that neither you nor they have to get it. With proper care, including a nutritious diet and adequate exercise, all of you can remain healthy throughout your life. This higher quality of life will make both you and your parents happier, which is the most important thing.