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Frailty: It's Not Just About Age

The Canadian Frailty Network (CFN) is Canada’s leading network for seniors living with frailty. But the CFN takes great care to make it clear that frailty and age are not interchangeable terms, discussing how complex the issue is and how proactive efforts can help in caring for the frail population.

Frailty increases with age, but it is more than simply “growing older.” The CFN defines frailty as a state of increased vulnerability, characterized by reduced physical energy and function. Frailty increases the likelihood of adverse health outcomes, and frail individuals are at a higher risk of death than their age alone would suggest. The elderly frail Canadians require more community assistance and hospital care and are more likely to have extended stays in long-term care facilities.

The current health care system tends to look at isolated physical ailments rather than addressing the complex multi-system issues that can arise from frailty. Taking a step back and looking at the larger picture of an individual’s health and wellness would be a more effective way to handle frailty-related issues. According to the CFN, frailty is poorly understood and underappreciated by both health care practitioners and the public, and it says that more frailty specialists are needed. Because of the under-appreciation of frailty and the lack of expertise to deal with it, integration of care for adults with frailty is poor, which in turn leads to poor outcomes for those struggling with it.

The CFN recommends that adults be screened for frailty using standardized criteria, to improve the care of frail seniors in the future. Age- or population-based thresholds for frailty can help determine best-care practices  to allow seniors to stay in their own homes longer and retain higher levels of function and can inform end-of-life care. Implementing this type of screening is no small task. The CFN acknowledges in its call to action that the “societal, ethical and legal implications of screening for frailty will need to be addressed … a shift in health policy and planning is needed that includes but is not limited to the implementation of frailty screening tools across care settings; new training and qualification frameworks for caregivers and health care professionals; and adapted funding models.

Frailty is most likely to affect the elderly population, but addressing it effectively will be good for everyone who lives with frailty, whether old or young, as well as for the people who care for them. At some point in our lives, frailty will affect us or someone we love. It touches everyone. 

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