The crave for longevity is genuine. We seek for, and adopt best health practices in order to keep the body in health and avoid a burdensome transition into old age. Most times however, we fail to prepare adequately for the travail that accompanies old age.
Lack of energy, muscle weakness, low appetite, extreme vulnerability to stressors (extreme heat or cold), susceptibility to falls, increased risk of infection or illness, prolonged hospital stay – all markers, which broadly define frailty, comes along with old age. This means, in an older frail adult, walking will be a bit more laboured, exhaustion will set in easily and lifestyle will become more or less sedentary.
The frailty criteria
According to a criteria developed by Dr. Linda Fried, a leader in the fields of epidemiology and geriatric medicine, and the geriatric practitioners at the John Hopkins University’s Center on Ageing and Health, a person is defined as “frail” if he meets at least three of the following criteria:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Slow walking speed and
- Low levels of physical activity
What are the risk factors of frailty?
To adequately deal with frailty in old age, a good knowledge of its risk factors, is necessary. Researchers in the field of frailty, have come up with such precipitating factors:
1. Anorexia: It is widely accepted that anorexia, loss of appetite, develops alongside ageing. When there is a decline in food intake, the body suffers, especially from lack of vital body nutrients. This leads to a consequence of general wasting away (cachexia) and body weakness.
2. Sarcopenia: This is the loss of general muscle mass which occurs during old age. It leads to reduced muscle performance, which causes an impairment of general physical activity and performance.
3. Immobility: This can be the result of arthritis, which causes joint pain and an associated difficulty in moving affected joints. It initiates sedentary-level activities, which cripples overall movement ability.
4. Depression: This can halt the progress of life in every facet. It can rub one of enthusiasm, vigor and the will to live, leading to isolation and abandonment of one’s daily routine. This makes the mind and body dormant, diminishing strength and resistance.
5. Balance impairment: There is a marked reduction in the ability to maintain balance as one ages. This increases susceptibility to accidental trips and falls and makes mobility even more difficult without assistance.
6. Medical conditions: Medical illnesses such as stroke, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cognitive impairment or cerebral changes, have been marked as predisposing factors to frailty in old age.
Effectively preventing frailty
Old age can be fun, and the physical drawbacks associated with it can be kept in check. This would mean easily walking around, climbing up and down the stairs, getting in and out of bed and sitting and getting out of a chair, all without assistance. To make these possible, certain effective measures can be adopted as part of a daily routine:
1.Maintain food intake: In the absence of specific disease, when it becomes difficult to get to the grocery store or prepare nutritious meals, older adults may become more dependent on others for their food or may rely on processed snacks. Try to keep up with the three healthy meals a day routine and consume foods that are rich in protein and vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grain, fish, sea foods, fats form low-fat products such as olive oil. Some older individuals, particularly men may be bereft of the basic knowledge of proper nutrition, especially if they’ve previously depended on others for their meals. When this becomes the case, a session or two with an expert dietitian will prove helpful.
2. Regular exercises: The regularity of exercise will produce compelling benefits in old age. Active exercise strengthens muscles and joints, making tendons and ligaments more flexible. This eases movement and reduces risks of joint and back pain. Exercise also fortifies muscle strength, increase energy levels and helps to maintain a healthy weight. Weight bearing exercise such as running or walking lowers your risk of both osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, current guidelines suggest that to stay healthy, adults between 19 and 64 should be active daily and maintain the following recommendations:
Cardiorespiratory Exercise: Often known as “cardio”, is any exercise that increases the heartbeat and breathing rate. Such exercises include walking, running, swimming, cycling, dancing and team sports such as football, hockey, basketball etc.
Resistance Exercise: This involves working the bodies muscle groups and building strength. It is recommended that adults train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment. Very light or light intensity resistance training is best for older persons or previously sedentary adults new to exercise.
Two to four sets of each exercise will help adults improve strength and power. For each exercise, 8-12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10-15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age and older persons starting exercise, while 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance. It is recommended that adults should wait at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions.
Additionally, balance exercises can help with balance problems in old age. They reduce the risk of falls in older adults with balance problems and women with low bone mass.
3. Avoid Isolation: The physical, emotional and mental states, are vital parts of well-being, which should be kept healthy. And avoiding isolation is one of the effective means of achieving this. The more active and social one his, the more healthy the brain remains. Continued engagement in one’s favorite activity, should be encouraged. Learning a new song, a new instrument, a new language, travelling, hanging out with family and friends, all been proven to keep the mind sane.