Growing older often means getting tired faster and moving slower than before. But some older people become very weak, and everyday activities become hard to do. This may be a health problem called frailty.
Frailty is more than just "slowing down." An older adult may be "frail" if a combination of these two things is happening:
When Nancy Levitt's mother was first diagnosed with dementia 14 years ago at age 78, the doctor told her she could safely drive to familiar places. But Levitt, 61, who volunteers at UCLA's Center on Aging in Los Angeles, was still nervous. Unexplained nicks and dents started appearing on her mother's car. She forgot where she parked. Levitt tried to discuss driving safety with her mother, but she angrily denied there was a problem. Then, she would forget their talks about driving altogether.
People who are frail may have trouble doing everyday tasks—going shopping, getting dressed, getting in or out of bed, or using the toilet. They may feel weak and off-balance and worry about falling.
Experts think frailty develops because of changes in how the body works. These body changes are more likely to happen when a person has certain other health problems, such as diabetes or dementia. These other health problems can cause frailty to get worse quickly.
People who are frail are more likely to have depression and to get infections. And it's much harder for them to recover when they get sick or injured.
How can you care for a frail older adult?
Encourage your loved one to keep up as many healthy lifestyle habits as possible.
Food provides calories, which provide energy and can help stop weight loss. Encourage your loved one to:
Eat more. Talk to your loved one's doctor about nutrition. Getting calories may be more important than avoiding fat for other reasons.
Eat more protein. This may help keep muscles strong. If needed, you can add protein powder to soups and other dishes.
Get enough vitamin D. This vitamin may help keep muscles working well as you get older. Talk to the doctor about having your loved one's vitamin D level checked.
Keep bones strong. Talk to the doctor about vitamin D and calcium supplements.
Try high-energy drinks, such as Boost, Ensure, or instant breakfast drinks. Smoothies, milk shakes, and milk also may help limit weight loss.
Eat many smaller meals rather than 3 larger meals a day.