The term “frail” has an everyday meaning as something that is fragile and sickly. When applied to older people, it is commonly used to describe those who appear weak and vulnerable. Having a scientific way to detect frailty improves the ability of clinicians and scientists to predict adverse health outcomes and develop interventions to promote healthy aging.
Frailty and disability have been often used interchangeably to describe vulnerable older adults. In the early 1990s, scientists began to think about frailty as an intolerance to physiological stress, distinct from disability, which may arise from biological, medical, and/or health problems that limit function. In the early 2000s, Dr. Fried and colleagues conceptualized the frailty syndrome as a distinct entity with the following definition:
"Frailty is 'a biologic syndrome of decreased reserve and resistance to stressors, resulting from cumulative declines across multiple physiologic systems, and causing vulnerability to adverse outcomes.'” (Fried et al, 2001)
Since then, frailty research has flourished, with a proliferation of scoring systems and scales to identify vulnerable subgroups of older adults. The study of frailty continues to evolve and thrive on a global scale across numerous health-related disciplines with an overarching goal to improve the healthy life span of older adults.