Study finds relationship between geriatric frailty, biology

November 15, 2002

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center have found evidence of a physiologic basis for the frailty often observed in geriatric patients.

Frailty exacts an enormous toll on the health and well being of older adults. Frail older adults are among the most vulnerable members of society because they are a much higher risk for falls, fractures, infections, development of disabilities, hospitalization, institutionalization and death than their age-matched, non-frail counterparts. Although frailty in older individuals is frequently recognized by family members and clinicians, until recently there have been few attempts to define the biology that underlies the syndrome. The Johns Hopkins study, to be published in the November issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, is one of the first to demonstrate associations between altered physiologic systems and the geriatric syndrome of frailty.

The frailty study focused on the population of the Cardiovascular Health Study, a longitudinal study of 5,888 community-dwelling individuals age 65 and older. Using a clinical criteria of frailty that the research group had developed, including weak grip strength, slow walking speed and weight loss, researchers sought to define relationships between frailty and several biomarkers they hypothesized to be associated with the development of frailty in geriatric patients.

Researchers found evidence to support a relationship between frailty and increased inflammation, altered carbohydrate metabolism and increased blood-clotting activity. While further research is needed, this is an important step toward predicting, preventing and treating frailty in the aging population.

"This is exciting research for the geriatric population," explained Jeremy Walston, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine. "Understanding the basis for frailty can help us develop interventions to better care for the vulnerable population of frail adults and could lead to significant improvements in the care of older adults."

Johns Hopkins Medicine

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