The Pulmonary System, Frailty & COVID-19: Q&A’s with Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos


Getty Image: Coronavirus and LungsExciting news!

Our website has a new clinical section on Pulmonary Function and Frailty. As the field of Frailty Science is relatively young, research in specific specialties may be scarce—and this is true of the associations between the respiratory system and frailty.

Consequently, we asked one of Johns Hopkins’ top experts in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine to review literature in this space, and compose this new section; we are grateful to Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an Assistant Professor in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, for taking up this challenge.

Among other things, Dr. Galiatsatos also serves in the Post-COVID-19 Clinic. So we asked him a few general but important quick questions pertaining to COVID:

What have you noticed with frailty and COVID?

  • “Persons already experiencing frailty have a worse prognosis with COVID.  Long COVID appears to have very similar features to frailty.”

What do geriatricians need to be aware of?

  • “Geriatricians should be aware that the strategy should be 100% to avoid getting COVID.  Vaccines are fine to prevent severe disease, but the focus should be on not catching it.”

What are the top three COVID concerns everyone should know?

  • “(1) Do what you can to not catch this virus, as long-term impact is still unknown.
  • (2) Stay up-to- date with one’s vaccine status, as immunity likely will continue playing a role in mitigating immediate and potential long-term effects.
  • (3) Continue maintaining well any other pre-existing conditions you may have, as COVID tends to cause them to worsen.”

Additionally, here are key takeaways from our new website content on the pulmonary system and frailty, which Dr. Galiatsatos drafted:

  • Around the age of about 35 years, lung function starts to decline as evidenced by physiological factors, such as decreased elasticity and surface area for gas exchange and weakened breathing muscles.
  •  There could be a link between naturally decreased lung reserve capacity and exhaustion in activities of daily living such as walking, and slower gait speed is associated with frailty.
  • Toxic environmental exposures, such as poor air quality or smoking habits, compound any simultaneous decline in the immune system as we age, accelerating a propensity toward frailty because inflammation is more likely to occur.
  • Regarding patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): COPD patients who were not clinically frail or pre-frail at baseline had a significantly increased likelihood to meet criteria for frailty in follow up (nearly 3 times as likely). COPD patients who were already frail and pre-frail at baseline had a significantly increased likelihood of death in follow up (nearly 3 time as likely).

You may be interested in Dr. Galiatsatos’ recent interviews about COVID-19:

Finally, did you know that Dr. Galiatsatos hosts weekly “COVID Community Updates”?  To find out more information and their schedule to see if you can particpate, email:

To stay up-to-date on Dr. Galiatsatos’ advice about COVID-19 and pulmonary health, follow him on Twitter @panagis21