Dr. Haqqani: Aging and frailty – Midland Daily News

As people age, many are more likely to become “frail,” meaning certain declines in body systems that prevent normal function. This is more likely to begin after someone reaches age 65 and is more prevalent among those ages 85 and older. An increase in longevity, the length of time people live, has caused more attention to be focused on frailty and ways to delay or manage it.

Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that 7% to 12% of Americans over age 65 are classified as “frail.” Frailty is seen more often in women than in men. Among the possible causes of frailty is a decrease in muscle mass caused by a decline in estrogen in women and testosterone in men as they age. Other causes could include a reduction of vitamin D levels and an increase in cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone active in carbohydrate and protein metabolism.

In its definition of frailty, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports these characteristics of the condition: weakness, slowness, low physical activity level, exhaustion, and unintentional weight loss. Frailty syndrome is the term used by many medical professionals to describe the condition. According to the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), poor endurance and a general loss of physical fitness are other characteristics of frailty syndrome. 

Three of the symptoms must be present for a definitive diagnosis of frailty syndrome. In addition to aging, other conditions may factor into the causes for frailty. They include cancer, heart disease, arthritis and other chronic illnesses.

Research on longevity

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) states that because people are living longer, the number of individuals classified as frail is increasing. The most recent information from the National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR) indicates that life expectancy rose to 78.8 years in 2019, a slight increase over the previous year. The United States Census Bureau estimates that by 2060, life expectancy on average will be 85.6 years. While the Census Bureau predicts that women will still live longer than men, an increase in life expectancy among men is anticipated by 2060.

The dangers of frailty

There are definite dangers of frailty, including the increased risk of infection, falling, hospitalization, and disabilities. The risk of complications after surgery increases, as well as of negative physical reactions to stress. The impact of the flu, pneumonia and other illnesses may also be more severe. Frailty raises the probability of death after certain stresses on the body, such as medical issues or trauma.

Management and lowering risk

Even though frailty will not affect everyone after age 65, researchers have investigated ways to delay it and manage it. Johns Hopkins Medicine has created a program of ways to delay frailty or lower the risk of it. Also, the Royal College of General Practitioners in the United Kingdom published a systematic review of primary care interventions for frailty, including research of muscle activity and protein as ways to manage frailty.

Knowing the symptoms of frailty and recognizing that the body may be changing are among the first action steps. Unintentional weight loss of 10 pounds within one year could be a signal that the body is becoming frail. Trouble standing or gripping things is another sign, as well as a feeling of exhaustion. Additionally, a resistance to beginning daily activities three or more days per week is another symptom. A low activity level that may encompass work, household or recreational endeavors could signal frailty. A decline in walking pace may also appear.

Exercise is important to keep the body strong. It is important to remember to focus on muscle groups with activities such as walking or running and sit-ups and push-ups or other exercises that focus on several areas of the body. The consistency of exercising regularly is very beneficial.

A diet including fruit, vegetables, proteins and low-fat dairy products, as well as whole grains and good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), helped reduce the likelihood of frailty by 75%, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. A positive diet for the mind is also recommended, including staying socially active with others and maintaining interests, such as hobbies.

Managing ongoing and chronic health issues also helps the body stay strong. A physician should be consulted when symptoms of frailty appear. 

To learn more about a variety of health conditions, management and treatment, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.

Do you have questions about your heart health? Ask Dr. Haqqani.

If you have questions about your cardiovascular health, including heart, blood pressure, stroke, lifestyle and other issues, we want to answer them. Please submit your questions to Dr. Haqqani by email at questions@vascularhealthclinics.org

Omar P. Haqqani is the Chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Vascular Health Clinics in Midland.

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