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Frailty: The Hidden Enemy of Those Aging at Home


I feel like I shouldn't have a question, yet I do. I'm a caregiver for a sweet lady who seems to be doing well according to her doctor. Her family thinks everything is great, but there's something bothering me, and I'm not sure what. It's just that she seems weaker than she was, and it concerns me. I'm here for a couple hours every day, so although I don't stay with her constantly I can definitely see a difference in just the past couple weeks. I'm not certain she's capable of being by herself for such long periods of time. It's not that she's fallen or anything, but I think it's a matter of time unless something changes. She's lost interest in The Price is Right and her crossword puzzles. When her family visits she greets them like always, but as soon as they're gone she needs a good long nap. Since I can't convince the family of my intuition, is there something I can do to help her?


You're a great example of why consistent caregivers are necessary: you've noticed the subtle changes of frailty. And you're correct, these changes, even though invisible, can lead to falls and serious declines in health if frailty goes on unassisted.

While frailty is a normal part of aging, there are certainly opportunities for you to combat the weakness that's endangering your friend. First, try to facilitate walks or rides to a location where she will see people, even if from afar. The social interaction can increase her motivation to get moving a little bit more. Not only will the exercise strengthen her body, but it can also increase her appetite, since weight loss is a huge factor in increased frailty.

As much as possible, keep trying to communicate your concerns to her family and physicians. Tell them you've observed increased frailty, and let them determine how to protect her moving forward. It's much better for everyone to collaborate together as a team than work independently and wonder why the family and physicians don't see what you observe. If your observations are correct, in time they will see the wisdom of your words. That's when they'll see what we do: that you're a keeper!


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