Common conditions and frailty
On this page, you’ll find expert resources to help you when working with older people living with frailty. We’ve categorised them by some of the most common conditions and life events older people experience.
As people age their health needs change, but there are practical steps people can take at any age to improve their health and reduce their risk at frailty.
Malnutrition and dehydration
Malnutrition (under-nutrition) affects around 1 in 10 older people and is a risk factor for frailty. Older people who are malnourished are more likely to visit their GP, be admitted to hospital and have longer recovery times from illness or surgery. Unintentional weight loss in older adults often goes unnoticed until it severely affects a person's health and wellbeing.
Older people are also more at risk of dehydration. Although there is little data on the reach and extent of dehydration, it appears to be widespread among older people and is one of the most common reasons why an older person is admitted to hospital. Dehydration is also associated with increased risk of urinary tract infections, falls and pressure ulcers. Diagnosing dehydration in older people can be challenging, and signs and symptoms are often mistaken for other age-related conditions, including dementia.
Falls and fractures are a common and serious health issue faced by older people. Falls are the main cause of a person losing their independence and going into long-term care. After a fall, the fear of falling can lead to more inactivity, loss of strength, loss of confidence and a greater risk of further falls.
Bladder and bowel problems
In the UK, there are over 14 million people who have urinary incontinence and 6.5 million with bowel incontinence. Incontinence can affect people of all ages but is more common in older people. Stigma around these issues mean people often delay seeking help, and symptoms in older people are often poorly managed.
Around 850,000 people are estimated to be living with dementia in the UK. Numbers of people with dementia in the UK are forecast to reach over 1 million by 2025 and over 2 million by 2051.
Delirium is an episode of acute confusion. It can often be misrecognised as dementia, but it is preventable and treatable. Older people are more at risk of developing delirium (particularly those who are living with dementia, cognitive impairment, experience severe illness or hip fracture).
Around 20 to 30% of older people on medical wards in hospital will have delirium, and up to 50% of people with dementia will experience it. Older people with delirium may have longer stays in hospital, be at increased risk of complications such as falls, accidents or pressure ulcers, and be more likely to be admitted into long-term care.
Mental health problems
Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are common in later life, affecting around 1 in 4 older people. They can have a significant impact on a person's quality of life. Mental health problems in older adults often go undetected and under-treated.
Supporting people to improve their wellbeing
There are 1.4 million chronically lonely older people in England. Loneliness can have a serious effect on a person’s health and wellbeing, increasing the likelihood of mental health problems and some physical health conditions.
The benefits of physical activity for older adults is well evidenced, with multiple health benefits including promoting general health, cognitive function, lower risk of falls and reduced likelihood of some long-term conditions and diseases.
When someone is struggling to cope
Some older people display signs that may indicate they're unable, or are choosing not, to look after themselves. Age UK carried out research to explore experiences of older people neglecting important aspects of their daily life.
Supporting people at the end of their life
Advanced care planning and end of life
Advanced care planning is key to delivering personalised care at the end of life. People should be encouraged to have proactive discussions about their wishes for care at the end of life as early as possible. Their wishes should also be recorded. These discussions should include advance decisions to refuse treatment (ADRT) and do not attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation (DNACPR) decisions.