Frailty syndrome

Frailty syndrome

The frailty syndrome is a collection of symptoms or markers, primarily due to the aging-related loss and dysfunction of skeletal muscle and bone, that place (mostly) older adults at increased risk of adverse events such as death, disability, and institutionalization.




Sarcopenia, (from the Greek meaning "poverty of flesh") refers to loss of muscle mass that occurs as a result of old age. It is characterized first by a decrease in muscle mass, which causes weakness and frailty. However, this loss of muscle mass may be caused by different cellular mechanisms than those that cause muscle atrophy. For example, during sarcopenia, there is a replacement of muscle fibres with fat and an increase in fibrosis.


Osteoporosis is an age-related disease of bone that leads to an increased risk of fracture. In osteoporosis the bone mineral density (BMD) is reduced, bone microarchitecture is disrupted, and the amount and variety of proteins in bone is altered. Osteoporosis is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) in women as a bone mineral density 2.5 standard deviations below peak bone mass (20-year-old healthy female average) as measured by DXA; the term "established osteoporosis" includes the presence of a fragility fracture.[1] Osteoporosis is most common in women after menopause, when it is called postmenopausal osteoporosis, but may also develop in men, and may occur in anyone in the presence of particular hormonal disorders and other chronic diseases or as a result of medications, specifically glucocorticoids, when the disease is called steroid- or glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis (SIOP or GIOP). Given its influence in the risk of fragility fracture, osteoporosis may significantly affect life expectancy and quality of life.

Muscle weakness

Muscle weakness,' also known as muscle fatigue, (or "lack of strength") refers to the inability to exert force with one's skeletal muscles. Weakness often follows muscle atrophy and a decrease in activity, such as after a long bout of bedrest as a result of an illness. There is also a gradual onset of muscle weakness as a result of sarcopenia - the age-related loss of skeletal muscle.

A test of strength is often used during a diagnosis of a muscular disorder before the etiology can be identified. Such etiology depends on the type of muscle weakness, which can be true or perceived as well as variable topically. True weakness is substantial, while perceived rather is a sensation of having to put more effort to do the same task.[2] On the other hand, various topic locations for muscle weakness are central, neural and peripheral. Central muscle weakness is an overall exhaustion of the whole body, while peripheral weakness is an exhaustion of individual muscles. Neural weakness is somewhere between.

Surgical outcomes

Frail elderly people are at significant risk of post-surgical complications and the need for extended care. Assessment of older patients before elective surgeries can accurately predict the patients' recovery trajectories.[3] The most widely used frailty scale consists of five items[4] :

  • unintentional weight loss >4.5kg in the past year
  • <20th population centile for grip strength
  • self-reported exhaustion
  • low physical activity such that persons would only rarely undertake a short walk
  • slowed walking speed, defined as lowest population quartile on 4 minute walking test.

A healthy person scores 0; a very frail person scores 5. Compared to non-frail elderly people, people with intermediate frailty scores (2 or 3) are twice as likely to have post-surgical complications, spend 50% more time in the hospital, and are three times as likely to be discharged to a skilled nursing facility instead of to their own homes.[3] Frail elderly patients (score of 4 or 5) have even worse outcomes, with the risk of being discharged to a nursing home rising to twenty times the rate for non-frail elderly people.


  1. ^ WHO (1994). "Assessment of fracture risk and its application to screening for postmenopausal osteoporosis. Report of a WHO Study Group". World Health Organization technical report series 843: 1–129. PMID 7941614. 
  2. ^ Muscle Weakness Coding Checklist by Jun Mapili, PT, MAEd
  3. ^ a b Makary MA, Segev DL, Pronovost PJ, et al. (June 2010). "Frailty as a predictor of surgical outcomes in older patients". J. Am. Coll. Surg. 210 (6): 901–8. doi:10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2010.01.028. PMID 20510798. Lay summary (28 December 2010). 
  4. ^ Fried, LP; Tangen, CM, Walston, J, Newman, AB, Hirsch, C, Gottdiener, J, Seeman, T, Tracy, R, Kop, WJ, Burke, G, McBurnie, MA, Cardiovascular Health Study Collaborative Research, Group (2001 Mar). "Frailty in older adults: evidence for a phenotype.". The journals of gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences 56 (3): M146-56. PMID 11253156. 

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