Frailty in old age is NOT inevitable


Seven years ago we moved my granny down from the area she called home to be nearer us.       “Us” being my mum (her daughter) and dad, and the five of us.   From Lancashire to Hampshire, a county completely new to her.  And whilst GG (great grandma) had lived in Canada and worked in London for decades, Lancashire was where was born and where she returned thirty years ago to look after her own mum until she sadly passed away.

The move done back then when GG was still relatively fit and able so that she could very much part of the process.   And done before being in her own flat, on the third floor, became a prison she couldn’t get out of without help.

GG’s health has declined since then, but then she is now 87 so that is to be expected to some extent, and she is now looking incredibly frail.   A double hip replacement at 50, that went wrong, has always caused her problems but now her mobility has really decreased.   To the pont she can no longer stand for long periods, and is pretty much housebound.   To be honest, we have always put her frailty down to “old age” and when we joke with GG about it she replies “you should try being old” .

Like many older people GG believes that becoming increasingly frail is inevitable, however I have recently discovered this isn’t actually true

According to a recent survey, Britons view frailty as an inevitable part of ageing, leading to acceptance of injuries and fear of dependence in old age.[i] Because of this, many people would just ‘wait and see’ or do nothing if a loved one became more frail3 and, worryingly, this means that older relatives may be a risk of malnutrition as warning signs go unheeded. 

[i] Online survey conducted by Abbott Laboratories Ltd. (Frailty in Older Age). 2016

And with that in mind it means for my generation we have to act now so that we prevent, as much as we can, our own frailty in old age.

90% of Britons don’t know that muscle loss starts at 403. In fact, a quarter of Britons believe it doesn’t occur until the age of 60 or over.3 The reality is however, those over the age of 65 are already experiencing the physical signs of muscle loss with the top three most challenging aspects of ageing cited as being less physically active, a lack of endurance and stamina and a general lack of energy.3

So what can we do to help?  Well obviously nutrition plays a huge role in this.   As it has always done in GG’s life.   Well actually looking back on it, food has played a huge role but I am not sure that nutrition actually has.   And as she has become more frail, and less able to stand, she has become less able to cook her own meals.   Cooking for her was a hobby, and what kept her occupied.   She is very much of the generation that grew up during the war and nothing has ever been wasted.   Even the end of French sticks have been known to be frozen “because you can make them into breadcrumbs”.   Freezers are crammed with pies and stewed fruit.   Shelves in the garage stacked with tins and jars of foods too.

I have always thought of GG’s diet as being a healthy one but the more I have read about the link between malnutrition and loss of muscle strength I am beginning to wonder if that wasn’t the case and that actually her muscle loss had begun long before she had her hips replaced in her fifties.   A diet rich with vegetables and fruit is healthy but it is  not going to nourish your muscles.   According to Kelly Grainger, Head of Dietetics and Therapies, Leaders in Oncology Care, London, getting the right nutrition is especially important as we age as it can help slow down muscle loss.     Something I wish I had known before.

GG recently had a spell in hospital (and I am going to talk about studies related to hospital stays, recovery and nutrition in a post later this week) and now that she is the home my mum has been instrumental in organising extra care for her, surrounding meals.   Carers to come in first thing to help with breakfast, her regular carer to come in over lunch, and more carers to come in at tea time.   We have been reliant on Marks and Spencer’s meals for one that can be microwaved but we know that they don’t represent the best in nutritional values.   They offer variety and value for money, and a convenience in that she can cook them herself as and when she wishes but they are not the same as a home cooked nutritious meal, are they?

So it is vicious circle, frail following a recent spell in hospital and unable to stand to produce home cooked balanced meals, but also because of that not getting a balanced diet rich in the right ingredients to promote healthy muscle growth is contributing to her frailty.

Which means I need to act now, as I approach my 47th birthday, if I don’t want to be in a similar position in forty years and need to encourage my peers to begin thinking about their own muscle health!

I have been sponsored by Abbott to become an advocate for my granny’s nutritional health

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