Background: Understanding points of onset of the frailty syndrome is vital to early identification of at-risk individuals and to targeting intervention efforts to those components that are first affected, when reversal may be most possible. This study aims to characterize natural history by which commonly used frailty criteria manifest and to assess whether the rate of progression to frailty depends on initial manifestations.
Methods: The investigation was based on a 7.5-year observational study of 420 community-dwelling women aged 70-79 years who were not frail at baseline, with frailty defined as meeting>or=3 of 5 criteria: weight loss, slow walking speed, weakness, exhaustion, and low physical activity level.
Results: The 7.5-year incidence of frailty was 9% among women who were nonfrail at baseline. Despite significant heterogeneity, weakness was the most common first manifestation, and occurrence of weakness, slowness, and low physical activity preceded exhaustion and weight loss in 76% of the women who were nonfrail at baseline. Women with exhaustion or weight loss as initial presenting symptoms were 3-5 times more likely to become frail than were women without any criterion (p<.05).
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that weakness may serve as a warning sign of increasing vulnerability in early frailty development, and weight loss and exhaustion may help to identify women most at risk for rapid adverse progression.