Seniors' falls can be prevented, but it takes some work

The Calgary Eyeopener's house doctor Dr. Raj Bhardwaj explains what frailty is and how to prevent it.

How to recognize when you're becoming frail

The Early Maintenance Mobilization project aims is to help frail seniors to get out of hospital sooner, and without losing mobility.
About 26 per cent of people over the age of 85 are considered frail, according to Dr. Raj Bhardwaj. (CBC)

​Frail people have a higher risk of falls, fractures and disability and a higher risk of going to the ER, according to Calgary Eyeopener medical contributor Dr. Raj Bhardwaj.

He says frailty is more common in people with at least one chronic condition, such as heart failure, diabetes and chronic lung problems.

"The more chronic conditions you have, the greater your risk of frailty," said Bhardwaj.

There are 27 different frailty assessment tools to help doctors, nurses and clinicians determine frailty. Here's one of the tools, which looks for five distinct characteristics:

  • A person who walks slower than what is expected for their age.
  • A person who has a low level of physical activity.
  • A person who has low energy.
  • A person who is losing weight unintentionally.
  • A person with low grip strength, which is used as a measure of muscle weakness.  

If you display one or two of these characteristics, then you could be at risk for becoming frail. If you have three to five, then you're already frail.

Calgary Dr. Raj Bhardwaj says frail people have a higher risk of complications from surgery and therefore are often are discharged to long-term care rather than going back home and living independently. (@RajBhardwajMD/Twitter)

Exercise key to fighting frailty

Bhardwaj says when it comes to fighting frailty, some of the research points to exercise. Start building your resilience early on in life and keep at it for as long as you can.

He says there is not enough data yet on which exercises are the best or how long you have to do them, but the trend is that some is better than none — and more is better than some.

"I met a man who was diagnosed with a chronic disease in his mid-40s and started doing weight training to maintain his health. Now he's in his mid-80s and can still bench-press over 200 pounds," said Bhardwaj. 

He adds that it's important to maintain your health from the start and to remember that frailty isn't just about physical strength. Make time to socialize and keep your mind active and engaged.