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Understanding functional and social risk characteristics of frail older adults: a cross-sectional survey study

Frailty is a condition of increasing importance, given the aging adult population. With an anticipated shortage of geriatricians, primary care physicians will increasingly need to manage care for frail adults with complex functional risks and social-economic circumstances. We used cross-sectional data from 4551 adults ages 65-90 who responded to the 2014/2015 cycle of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Member Health Survey (MHS), a self-administered survey that covers multiple health and social characteristics, to create a deficits accumulation model frailty index, classify respondents as frail or non-frail, and then compare prevalence of functional health issues including Activities of Daily Living (ADL)/Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL) and social determinants of health (SDOHs) by frailty status. The overall prevalence of frailty was 14.3%, higher for women than men, increased with age, and more common among those with low levels of education and income. Frail older adults were more likely than non-frail to have ≥ 3 chronic diseases (55.9% vs. 10.1%), obesity (32.7% vs. 22.8%), insomnia (36.4% vs. 8.8%), oral health problems (25.1% vs. 4.7%), balance or walking problems (54.2% vs. 4.9%), ≥ 1 fall (56.1% vs. 19.7%), to use ≥ 1 medication known to increase fall risk (56.7% vs. 26.0%), and to need help with ≥2 ADLs (15.8% vs. 0.8%) and ≥ 2 IADLs (38.4% vs. 0.8%). They were more likely to feel financial strain (26.9% vs. 12.6%) and to use less medication than prescribed (7.4% vs. 3.6%), less medical care than needed (8.3% vs 3.7%), and eat less produce (9.5% vs. 3.2%) due to cost. Nearly 20% of frail adults were unpaid caregivers for an adult with frailty, serious illness or disability. This study examined the prevalence of frailty and identified modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors of health. The frail older adult population is heterogeneous and requires a patient-centered assessment of their circumstances by healthcare providers and caregivers to improve their quality of life, avoid adverse health events, and slow physical and mental decline. The characteristics identified in this study can be proactively used for the assessment of patient health, quality of life, and frailty prevention.

Authors: Lee DR; Santo EC; Lo JC; Ritterman Weintraub ML; Patton M; Gordon NP

BMC Fam Pract. 2018 10 19;19(1):170. Epub 2018-10-19.

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