askST: Can frailty among the elderly be reversed?

Frailty among elderly Singaporeans is reversible with exercise, diet and mental training. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Doctors believe that frailty among the elderly leads to falls, longer hospital stays and poor recovery. With a rapidly ageing population, frailty is of concern here, especially with the condition expected to become more common among older adults living within the community, from 3.5 per cent to 27 per cent.

The Straits Times looks at how being frail affects seniors and how they can delay or even reverse the process.

Q: What is frailty?

A: Frailty is an age-related ailment of physical decline, in which a person loses strength, endurance and the ability to function on his own. A frail elderly person often shows symptoms of weakness and fatigue, a combination of health conditions including dementia, and poorer responses to treatment or surgery.

Q: Who suffers from frailty?

A: Around 5 per cent of older adults living in the community here have this condition. They usually show three or more of five symptoms – unintentional weight loss; muscle loss which makes them appear thin and weak; low or no energy; they tire easily; they walk very slowly and have low levels of physical activity.

When physical and mental frailties are present, the elderly person is more than 20 times more likely to become disabled, hospitalised or die earlier.

Q: How can frailty be prevented, delayed or even reversed?

A: In a four-year study conducted by the National University of Singapore in 2014, it was found that physical exercise, a change in diet, cognitive training and even a combination of the three helped in the prevention, delay and reversal of frailty among elderly participants. This shows that frailty is not an inevitable part of ageing.

Physical activities like walking and easy strength-training moves improve strength. The elderly also need three healthy meals a day that include fruit, vegetables, protein, good fats, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. Playing mahjong and talking to friends can also prevent the onset of frailty.

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