Background: Frailty is an indicator of health status in old age. Its frequency has been described mainly for North America; comparable data from other countries are lacking. Here we report on the prevalence of frailty in 10 European countries included in a population-based survey.
Methods: Cross-sectional analysis of 18,227 randomly selected community-dwelling individuals 50 years of age and older, enrolled in the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) in 2004. Complete data for assessing a frailty phenotype (exhaustion, shrinking, weakness, slowness, and low physical activity) were available for 16,584 participants. Prevalences of frailty and prefrailty were estimated for individuals 50-64 years and 65 years of age and older from each country. The latter group was analyzed further after excluding disabled individuals. We estimated country effects in this subset using multivariate logistic regression models, controlling first for age, gender, and then demographics and education.
Results: The proportion of frailty (three to five criteria) or prefrailty (one to two criteria) was higher in southern than in northern Europe. International differences in the prevalences of frailty and prefrailty for 65 years and older group persisted after excluding the disabled. Demographic characteristics did not account for international differences; however, education was associated with frailty. Controlling for education, age and gender diminished the effects of residing in Italy and Spain.
Conclusions: A higher prevalence of frailty in southern countries is consistent with previous findings of a north-south gradient for other health indicators in SHARE. Our data suggest that socioeconomic factors like education contribute to these differences in frailty and prefrailty.