Overview of Frailty

Frailty is a dynamic condition experienced by many older adults.  It is a vulnerability to adverse outcomes resulting from an interaction of physical, socio-economic and co-morbidity factors: major adverse events are more common among frail patients in comparison to non-frail patients. (1)

Why is it important?

  • Prevalence of frailty is higher in women and increases with age
  • Social vulnerability, aging, and chronic disease lends to development of frail elderly individuals
  • When an individual is frail the impact of an “illness” further impairs function and ability to cope
  • Frailty causes increased risk of other diseases
  • In-hospital mortality is higher among frail patients than among non-frail patients (1)
  • Frail individuals are more likely to become functionally dependent; have a lower quality of life; and are more often re-admitted to hospital than non-frail individuals
  • Frailty increases the risk for adverse health outcomes such as falls, hospitalization, increased length of stay, increased costs, with worsening of outcomes including mortality and need for long term placement (1) (3)

Common Causes

  • Physical: extreme age, weight loss, slow gait, fatigue, inactivity, poor grip strength
  • Socio-economic:  isolation, caregiver gaps, poverty, gender, immigration status
  • Co-morbidity factors:  impaired cognition/mood, poly-pharmacy, multiple chronic diseases

Key Considerations

  • CSHA Clinical Frailty Scale widely used to describe and classify the severity of frailty: based on  function for  Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (2) 
  • Align goals and preferences of the patient and family www.sagelink.ca/GPHE_intro_all_related_documents_2014_geriatric_periodic_health_exam
  • Components of the Comprehensive Geriatric Exam can be used to flag issues for further review with Geriatric Periodic Health Exam Focus should be on:
        • Early identification of onset and acute illness, optimizing sensory inputs, assessing cognition/mood, reviewing medications, and promoting regular exercise and nutrition supplementation.
        • Optimizing chronic disease management strategies and modify geriatric syndromes (e.g. falls, immobility, confusion, depression, incontinence)
        • Implementing  necessary environmental changes/adaptations and maximization of community and socio-economic supports
        • Encouraging activity and socialization in order to help prevent advancing frailty


1.  Bagshaw, S.M., et al (2014). Association between frailty and short and long-term outcomes among critically
     ill patients: a multicenter prospective cohort study.  CMAJ, 186 (2), doi: 10.1503/cmaj.130639.
     Retrieved Feb. 2014 from:

2.  B.C. Ministry of Health. (2012). Frailty in Older Adults- Early Identification and Management.  
     Retrieved February 2014 from:

3.  Fried, L.P., et al (2001). Frailty in Older Adults: Evidence for a Phenotype. Journal of Gerontology:
, 56A(3), M146-M156.  Retrieved Feb. 2014 from:

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Centre for Studies in Aging and Health
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