Who Wants to Be Frail? The More Frail an Older Adult Is, the Higher the Risk for Injuries

Sandra Gurvis
Who wants to be frail?

“Look, you are healthy and everything seems to be going well,” my doctor told me last summer, despite my frustration that I had not dropped the pandemic five pounds I’d gained since March 2020. “It’s just a number.”

His response gave me pause. My whole life has been a battle of the bulge featuring rollercoaster dieting and even a sampling of plus sizes after the birth of my second child, Alex.

Yet, I carefully considered the doctor’s recent comment. Sure, I could dive right back into my diet, measuring and cataloguing every bite. I could deprive myself of all desserts, pizza and bread­—and avoid social functions with all those tempting appetizers. My body just craves certain foods. (Ask my cousin, Steve, about that gingerbread house that went missing a few years back just after my diet had ended in a loss of 35 pounds.)

Reality is, though, that some people my age—slightly north of Medicare’s magical 65—have major health scares that result in sudden and dramatic weight losses. A friend recently had a heart attack—thankfully no damage was done—and another was hospitalized for a week after a serious infection due to a scratched arm.

After my doctor’s visit, I decided to embrace my appearance and reconsider the benefits of my extra weight. In the process, I discovered that science may be with me on this.

There is such a thing as a frailty index. Frailty is measured by doctors in an equation involving a person’s Body Mass Index, grip strength, gait speed, physical exhaustion and any sudden loss of weight.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine lists several studies on the topic. Bottom line, the more frail an older adult is, the more at risk they are for injuries and illness.

“Frailty in older adults is a condition characterized by a loss or reduction in physiological reserve resulting in increased clinical vulnerability,” explains one article from the journal BMC Geriatrics.

“If you’re losing weight and not trying to, it can be cause for serious concern,” says Dr. Marian Schuda, medical director of the OhioHealth John J. Gerlach Center for Senior Health. Among possible reasons causing the weight loss can be depression or cancer.

Some extra weight may be OK. The CDC defines a healthy weight as 18.5 to 24.9 BMI; overweight as 25 to 29.9 BMI; and obesity of around 30 BMI or higher. “More important [than this number] is getting adequate nutrition—five fruits and vegetables a day in a mix of colors— and plenty of protein,” advises Schuda.

An easy way to get your BMI is to plug your height, weight and (optional) age into one of the internet’s many BMI calculators.

No matter what your size, moderate exercise is good. Of course, jumping full-bore into a strenuous exercise routine can be risky at any age, but as aches and pains increase, older people may overuse anti-inflammatories such as Advil, Motrin and Aleve, which can cause other problems, such as ulcers, bleeding and possible liver damage. Schuda recommends acetaminophen and “30 minutes of walking, five days a week.”

Recently I went shopping for a swimsuit. When the saleswoman complimented me on my “booty,” I shrugged and proceeded to try on various styles. Eventually, I purchased two flattering tops and a skirt-like bottom that goes with both. As this super saleswoman said, people pay big bucks for big butts, either through exercise or artificial means.

Who am I to argue with the facts?

This story is from the 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly Health.