Ask a child what an old person looks like, and they will likely stoop forward, walk slowly, feign inability to lift something heavy, and look tired and sad.
What they are unconsciously mimicking are the familiar symptoms of “frailty”- a syndrome that is easy to recognise, although somewhat harder to agree on with regards to its cause or most effective treatment. Although not all older adults become frail, these features associated with ageing are common enough that the stereotype is familiar to children everywhere.
We do know that frailty (most often defined as sarcopenia (loss of muscle), slowness, sedentariness, sleepiness, and strength loss) will affect up to one-half of the 1.6 billion older adults who will populate the world in 2050. Unfortunately, despite decades of research, we have no pharmacologic “magic bullet” to prevent or treat frailty, or slow its progression. We have no blood test to verify its presence, and even the measurements of its core features (muscle mass, muscle strength, gait speed, fatigue, physical activity level) require tools that are not part of the typical physician’s office or hospital visit, and therefore remain largely out of sight, out of mind.
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