Frailty: Understanding the condition

Lead Older Persons Mental Health Research Nurse Sharon Simpson discusses what frailty is, how it can be recognised and how we can support people living with the condition in light of needing increased research into this area.

As an Older Persons Mental Health Research (OPMH) Nurse I was invited by Health Education Wessex to complete a fellowship programme and I created a project related to Frailty: a topic not often discussed, but one that needs more attention and better understanding. I once heard the perspective that the word ‘frailty’ is an unacceptable word to describe an elderly person. However research is beginning to acknowledge that frailty is a syndrome and that there is a false stigma around the word, which could be eliminated through having a better understanding of the condition. 

In my own research, I used a short questionnaire to find out what people understood about the condition and what frailty meant to them. The responses I received from colleagues, patients and family members were quite varied. It appeared that people were not too sure what being frail means or how it presents itself and believed that frailty only affects the elderly. 

Frailty is in fact a condition which can affect someone of any age but is most often seen in older people. It is related to the way a person can function in day to day life, taking into consideration their physical and psychological health. Securing a diagnosis of frailty can enable a person to proactively access support and take action to ensure they stay healthy and independent for as long as possible.

As an Older Persons Mental Health Research (OPMH) Nurse, I work with older people, their carer’s and family members each and every day listening about their long and interesting lives.  The older generation have lived through many different experiences that most of us could never imagine; setting their minds back with melancholy moods, laughter and often tears. Opportunities to learn and be involved in exciting new projects are something that all people should be given: young and old alike. Whilst our energy may not be the quite the same as we age, there is still a passion for learning and getting involved and I hear this during my visits as an OPMH Nurse delivering new research studies. 

Although older people want to be involved in research they do not always understand the jargon or the term ‘research’ and associated keywords. Keeping things simple and easily understandable is often the best way to work with our older people.  This also builds strong relationships, trust, honesty and great patient working. Furthermore, whilst keeping things simple, our older generation have expressed the need to understand their conditions and how they can better manage them for a healthier quality of life.

The lack of education and understanding about the condition inspired me to create a short film explaining what frailty is, how it is recognised and how it can be managed as a condition. With the right advice, guidance and support, someone with frailty can begin to reduce the risks of falls. Understanding the importance of the whole person, physical, social, spiritual and psychological means we can better understand that lifestyle is vital in maintaining our health, happiness and day to day life.  You can view my video ‘Frailty – Unpeeling the Onion’ using the link and password below.  Password: frailty

About the author

I am the Lead Older Persons Mental Health (OPMH) Research Nurse for the Academy of Research and Improvement. I thoroughly enjoy my job as I get to use my skills and knowledge base as a mental health nurse working with older people but within the field of research delivery, which I am very passionate about.  I am very keen to offer older people and their carers/family member’s opportunities to want to make a difference and get involved within research to shape the future of our services and interventions.  It is imperative we listen to our patients and hear from the heart what matters to them,  and as professionals it is our job to try to understand and deliver what we can to make that difference to people’s lives. 

As a qualified RMN I have worked within inpatient and community settings over the years, in all mental health areas:  CAMHS, Drug and Alcohol, Forensic, AMH, OPMH as a staff nurse and then a community psychiatric nurse. I have a Master’s Degree in Gerontology and the past 6 years have worked within Research and Improvement leading the Older Persons Mental Health division of portfolio studies.