Elderly people should take a simple online test to determine if they are at risk of frailty, says a Brisbane Private Hospital geriatrician.
The debilitating illness, caused by the accumulation of microscopic damage at cellular and sub-cellular level, is expected to affect at least four million Australians aged 70 and over by the year 2050.
Dr Anthony French said the government resource, introduced this year, will help to identify the condition earlier, as it is not usually clinically diagnosed until the damage reaches a more easily detectable macroscopic level.
“This resource is a great step in the right direction," he said. "By taking this initial screening test and following up with their general practitioners, elderly patients can find out if they’re at risk, and if they are, make the necessary lifestyle changes before it eventuates.”
Physical signs of frailty include a loss of muscle mass, muscle weakness, poor endurance or energy, slowness and low physical activity. The body’s ability to repair the cellular damage becomes compromised, increasing sufferers’ vulnerability to falls and other illnesses.
Dr French said frailty often precedes complete deconditioning – a more severe decrease in mobility which requires rehabilitation.
“All of the diagnoses associated with ageing, and those that accelerate ageing, are associated with frailty and increase the risk and rate of deconditioning,” he said.“This is preventable, though, and measures like this online screening test really help, as deconditioning is often very difficult to reverse."
An Australian-first study by aged care provider Benetas surveyed 3,000 participants aged 65 and above, and found that half of women respondents were classified as frail or pre-frail, compared to less than 40 percent of men. Not all seniors surveyed showed frailty risk, suggesting it can be avoided.
Dr French said this health issue can be minimised by educating elderly patients, their caregivers and doctors about the importance of maintaining physical activity.
“Avoidance of a sedentary lifestyle in retirement with increasing age must be an important goal of public education and community health programs.Reinforcing the importance of exercise will make a big difference. Pass on this message: ‘Your muscles, your strengths and your abilities: use them or lose them’.”
For more information, and to take the frailty test, visit the Positive Ageing Resource Centre website.