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What is frailty?

As part of a long-term research project, ExtraCare is working with Aston University to develop a Resilience Tool. ExtraCare’s Well-being and Community Manager Shirley Hall and Shenley Wood Village resident Jack Piggott explain more.

The dictionary defines frail as: Physically weak and delicate. Easily damaged.

So we think of a frail person as being highly vulnerable to health issues. We look at things like physical strength, balance, daily activities of life, existing medical conditions as well as brain health and memory, known as cognitive function – including learning, problem solving and the thinking skills we need for life.

Someone becoming frailer is also becoming less able to cope with complications and problems in life.

Predicting Care

Currently, ExtraCare and Aston University are developing a “Resilience Tool”, formerly known as the “Frailty Calculator”. They are using information gathered from an index, or agreed set of tests, to measure health issues, physical strength, balance, daily activities of life and cognitive frailty.

The testing methods and analysis used in this research predicted 50 per cent of residents who received care.

There is also evidence showing that people with physical frailty but no cognitive difficulties can cope better with physical difficulties and may need less care. On the other hand, someone with cognitive impairment and physical difficulties may have higher care needs.

Put another way, cognitive difficulties can have a greater impact than physical impairments on your need for support.

What is frailty?

Having a reliable index or agreed evaluation can be a useful tool for ExtraCare.

It provides a way of predicting which residents may need care at some time, and what type of care they will need. This is important because the current information shows that some residents who could be classed as frail are not receiving any care. A reliable index could prevent their needs from being missed.

This is so important because the stronger our residents stay, the better they are likely to recover from illness and be able to stay more independent.

When the data is analysed, it shows that frailty is not necessarily a permanent state. Someone frail might improve enough to be classified as “pre-frail”. They are no longer actually frail; they are at a stage before that. Also, people who are pre-frail might improve to become “not frail”. Targeted intervention or support can lead to a measurable improvement in wellbeing and independence.

Not only can any lessening of frailty improve quality of life; it can also mean lower care costs. As care costs are lower for someone pre-frail compared with someone frail, there is the double benefit of improving someone’s quality of life while also reducing the cost of their care.

Next steps

We are looking into using the Resilience Tool as part of the baseline and annual assessments carried out by Well-being Advisors.

Last summer, the new forms were used in a trial in Birmingham Villages. We realised that the results were not only useful for care providers, but also they will be meaningful to the residents involved. It means that ExtraCare can offer really well-targeted support, signpost activities that will improve a resident’s frailty if appropriate, and set individual goals that help residents to take some control over their own health.

We hope to re-launch the Well-being assessments this Spring, including this tool, and follow up the frailty part if we identify any concerns.


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