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New test to help seniors keep independence

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A major study has been released by Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt designed to uncover frailty and spark simple interventions to help older Australians maintain their independence.

It comes with a new online test to help detect the signs of frailty while action can be taken.

The Frailty in Community Dwelling Older People – Using Frailty Screening as the Canary in the Coal Mine is a landmark report, which surveyed 3000 Australians aged over 65 and found six per cent were frail and 38 per cent were considered pre-frail.

 Women were found to be more likely to be frail than men.

Mr Wyatt said he believed the simple FRAIL five-point online test was an important start to people have the opportunity to detect frailty before it hits, allowing them to take action to live better lives, remain in their own homes for longer and avoid potential hospitalisation.

The Minister encouraged older Australians to do the test and follow up with their GP as necessary.

“People classed as frail are more at risk from fall injuries, deteriorating health and premature death,” Mr Wyatt said.

“Importantly, the study recommends that with the right support at the right time, frailty can be halted or even reversed by consulting with health professionals for safe, simple, inexpensive, practical interventions.”

The study was produced by aged care provider Benetas, a large not-for-profit aged care provider based in Victoria and part of Anglicare Australia.

The aim was to validate and implement a simple self-completed tool that can accurately identify frailty.  Older people who are at risk of increased dependency and/or mortality can then be identified and provided with appropriate services to keep them well. 

The study found 56 per cent of elderly Australians were considered to be robust, with 41 per cent of women classed as pre-frail compared to 34 per cent of men.

Authors of the report believe frailty is generally considered to be a consequence of ageing but not all elderly people are frail.

Frailty describes any person, regardless of age, who is at heightened risk to illness or injury from relatively minor external stresses.

Frailty should be considered a syndrome rather than a disease in itself and can be defined by a number of components — unintentional weight loss, self-reported fatigue, diminished physical activity, and measured impairment (comparative to age-standardised norms) of gait speed.

The study also recommends that, with the right support at the right time, frailty can be halted or even reversed by consulting with health professionals for safe, simple, inexpensive, practical interventions.

These positive changes to decrease frailty risks include taking steps to modifying diet to include more proteins as well as taking vitamin D supplements. Increasing activity, including light resistance exercises and walking, as well as evaluating prescription medication intake, in consultation with your GP, were also recommended by the authors.

Benetas project leader Stephen Burgess said frailty was the “canary in the coal mine” which could help detect a rapid health decline before it happened.

“Frailty, including pre-frailty, is an invisible condition. Many who are frail appear to function reasonably well in the community. As a result, individuals and family members are often unaware frailty is present,” he said.

The FRAIL test is available through the Positive Ageing Resource Centre website. (www.parc.net.au). At the conclusion of the brief questionnaire, users can print off a personal summary to present to their health professional.

The PARC website is funded by an Aged Care Service Improvement and Healthy Ageing Grant from the Federal Department of Health http://www.health.gov.au/ and is developed by researchers from Monash University’s School of Primary Health Care http://www.med.monash.edu.au/sphc/ and Benetas.