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Optimal aging: how to combat signs of frailty


Published: 07/22/2015

by Marcus Johnson

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As we age we begin to lose a lot of what we took for granted when we were younger, such as strength, speed, endurance, balance and flexibility. Seniors who become frail are at greater risk of falling, getting hurt, becoming disabled and being hospitalized. For seniors and their families, symptoms of frailty seriously detract from a good quality of life and enjoyment of those “golden years.”

Frailty, however, is different from simply 'growing old', since some individuals live to an old age without becoming frail.  The term “frail” has yet to be clearly defined but it generally refers to “older adults or aged individuals who are lacking in general strength and are unusually susceptible to disease or to other infirmity”.

What can be done to combat the signs of frailty?
Research evidence, summarized on the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal, has shown that certain interventions may prevent or delay frailty, and perhaps even treat it once it has occurred. These interventions include:

• Exercise: muscle strengthening and aerobic exercises
Walking is a popular, accessible and low-risk physical exercise that can contribute to improved health. Walking in groups offers additional benefits, including increased motivation and social opportunities.

Tai Chi is practiced worldwide and is an appropriate physical activity for older adults due to the low risk of injury.

• Proper management of multiple medications 
Adults are advised to regularly review their medications with their family doctor. Certain drugs (e.g. for sleeping problems, depression and anxiety) increase the risk for falls and confusion, particularly in older adults who are already prone to falls and cognitive issues. Reducing or stopping these medications can help decrease risks and improve mental function.

• Improved diet: added protein and calories
Adults should be sure to follow a healthy diet, with guidance from their doctor or dietitian.

• Early detection of chronic disease
Early intervention and better management of chronic disease can help prevent or delay frailty.

Take action now to prevent, delay or perhaps even treat frailty.

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