10:18am Monday 20 January 2020

Frailty linked to physical and mental decline in old age

The findings of the study led by Dr Matthew O’Connell (TCD) and funded by the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI), are based on analysis of data from the Health Survey Northern Ireland and the first wave of data from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA).

The results show the prevalence of frailty in older people is significantly higher in Northern Ireland and highlight that frailty is a strong predictor of disability in older age. Rates of disability in older people in Northern Ireland are almost twice those in the Republic of Ireland. The study finds that rates of frailty increase with age and that women are more likely to be frail than men. It also finds frailty is higher for older people in lower socio-economic groups.

Key Findings:

    The prevalence of frailty among people aged 60+ in NI (21%) is much higher than in ROI (7%).
    Among people aged 60-64, the rates of limiting disability are 43% in NI and 25% in ROI. In the 80+ group, 54% in NI and 29% in ROI have a limiting disability.
     Women are more likely to be frail than men: 22% compared with 19% in NI and 7% compared with 6% in ROI.
    Prevalence of frailty rises with age. In NI 16% of people aged 60-64 are frail and 36% aged 80+. In ROI 3% of 60-64 year olds and 15% of those aged 80+ are frail.
      In NI 17% of people aged 60+ in high social class are frail, as are 29% of those in low social class. In ROI only 3% of high social class are frail compared with 10% in low social class.

 “The overall findings of our study highlight the importance of identifying risk factors for frailty in older people. The link between frailty and disability emphasises the importance of targeting resources and strategies for those most at risk of developing frailty in later life including women and those in lower socio-economic groups”, said Dr O’Connell. “The significant differences found between Ireland, North and South, also warrant further investigation”.

Professor Bob Stout, Co-Chair of CARDI added: “Frailty is a key issue for older people in Ireland, North and South, as it is linked to functional decline and disability in later life. These findings show that priority should be given to understanding how older people become frail and developing strategies to prevent it”.

CARDI has prepared a research brief “Frailty and Disability” which summarises the findings of the study and explores policy implications. It is available at www.cardi.ie.

Notes to editors:

The study is entitled “Frailty and disability in Ireland” (Scarlett et al., 2014).

Frailty is defined by five criteria:

1. Difficulty walking a short distance;

2. Difficulty climbing stairs;

3. Exhaustion/having energy to spare;

4. Extent of physical activity;

5. Co-morbidity: two or more of hypertension, lung disease, stroke, diabetes, angina and heart problems.

The items used to measure frailty north and south are not identical.

The research team was:

Ms Siobhan Scarlett, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Bellinda L King-Kallimanis, Trinity College Dublin

Professor Ian Young, Queen’s University Belfast

Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Matthew DL O’Connell, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Matthew O’Connell is available for interviews.

Media queries:

For more information contact Nicola Donnelly at CARDI, tel (ROI): 086 2762397 or email: nicola@cardi.ie.

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