Thousands of adults in their 30s are frail, major study warns

Thousands of men and women are frail in middle-age as symptoms thought to just strike the elderly occur decades earlier, according to a major study.

Researchers spotted weakness, slowness and exhaustion, commonly associated with old age, in patients as young as 37.

Scottish researchers warned frailty doubles the risk of dying within seven years – even for middle-aged adults.

But the scientists, who delved into data from almost half a million people, argued that frailty can easily be reversed.

Researchers spotted weakness, slowness and exhaustion, commonly associated with old age, in patients as young as 37

Frailty was defined as the presence of three or more out of five indicators: weakness, slowness, weight loss, low physical activity, and exhaustion.

People with one or two indicators were classified as ‘pre-frail’ by the researchers at Glasgow University. 

Professor Frances Mair, lead author, told The Times: ‘Most men in their thirties, forties and fifties would be appalled to be called frail.

‘We have an impression in our head of what tends to be called frail, and that needs to change.’

She added: ‘I would suggest these estimates of frailty are probably quite conservative. In the general population it would be probably be even more common.’ 

The study, published in The Lancet Public Health, delved into data from 493,000 men and women between 37 and 73 years old.

Records of the participants were then assessed by the researchers to determine who would be considered frail.

Three per cent of all the participants were identified as frail, and more than a third were already beginning to deteriorate.

A further analysis of the data revealed 1,381 men and women between the ages of 37 and 45 were considered frail. 

Professor Mair and colleagues then tracked all the participants over seven years to determine the risk of death from frailty.

It was associated with a greater than two-fold risk of mortality in males and females over the age of 45 and males aged 37-45.

Professor Mair said: ‘People with frailty are understood to be at higher risk of adverse health events, but previous research has almost always focused on older people.

‘In our study we applied the test for frailty to a wider, and younger group of people and found that the condition was present in people of all ages.

‘Interventions to reverse frailty or improve patient outcomes have, almost exclusively, focused on the very elderly or those in long-term care. 

‘However, our findings indicate that there is a need for a change in focus, to start identifying frailty and intervene much earlier.

‘The hope is, with earlier identification and intervention frailty can be reversed in some patients.’

Dr Peter Hanlon, co-author of the study, said: ‘Although frailty should be a cause for concern when identified in middle to older aged people, it may be reversible, particularly if it is identified at an early stage.

‘Identifying frailty may have positive implications for care, planning interventions and a patient’s prognosis, particularly in individuals who have more than one underlying health condition.

‘In light of our findings we suggest that an assessment of frailty should be incorporated into routine monitoring and assessment of people with multimorbidity, which may help identification of those at greater risk to ensure more accurate targeting of care.’