, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 547-563
Date: 18 Jun 2010

Aging, frailty and age-related diseases

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Abstract

The concept of frailty as a medically distinct syndrome has evolved based on the clinical experience of geriatricians and is clinically well recognizable. Frailty is a nonspecific state of vulnerability, which reflects multisystem physiological change. These changes underlying frailty do not always achieve disease status, so some people, usually very elderly, are frail without a specific life threatening illness. Current thinking is that not only physical but also psychological, cognitive and social factors contribute to this syndrome and need to be taken into account in its definition and treatment. Together, these signs and symptoms seem to reflect a reduced functional reserve and consequent decrease in adaptation (resilience) to any sort of stressor and perhaps even in the absence of extrinsic stressors. The overall consequence is that frail elderly are at higher risk for accelerated physical and cognitive decline, disability and death. All these characteristics associated with frailty can easily be applied to the definition and characterization of the aging process per se and there is little consensus in the literature concerning the physiological/biological pathways associated with or determining frailty. It is probably true to say that a consensus view would implicate heightened chronic systemic inflammation as a major contributor to frailty. This review will focus on the relationship between aging, frailty and age-related diseases, and will highlight possible interventions to reduce the occurrence and effects of frailty in elderly people.