Psychological well-being and incident frailty in men and women: the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing

Psychol Med. 2014 Mar;44(4):697-706. doi: 10.1017/S0033291713001384. Epub 2013 Jul 3.


Background: Observations that older people who enjoy life more tend to live longer suggest that psychological well-being may be a potential resource for healthier ageing. We investigated whether psychological well-being was associated with incidence of physical frailty.

Method: We used multinomial logistic regression to examine the prospective relationship between psychological well-being, assessed using the CASP-19, a questionnaire that assesses perceptions of control, autonomy, self-realization and pleasure, and incidence of physical frailty or pre-frailty, defined according to the Fried criteria (unintentional weight loss, weakness, self-reported exhaustion, slow walking speed and low physical activity), in 2557 men and women aged 60 to ≥ 90 years from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

Results: Men and women with higher levels of psychological well-being were less likely to become frail over the 4-year follow-up period. For a standard deviation higher score in psychological well-being at baseline, the relative risk ratio (RR) for incident frailty, adjusted for age, sex and baseline frailty status, was 0.46 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.40-0.54]. There was a significant association between psychological well-being and risk of pre-frailty (RR 0.69, 95% CI 0.63-0.77). Examination of scores for hedonic (pleasure) and eudaimonic (control, autonomy and self-realization) well-being showed that higher scores on both were associated with decreased risk. Associations were partially attenuated by further adjustment for other potential confounding factors but persisted. Incidence of pre-frailty or frailty was associated with a decline in well-being, suggesting that the relationship is bidirectional.

Conclusions: Maintaining a stronger sense of psychological well-being in later life may protect against the development of physical frailty. Future research needs to establish the mechanisms underlying these findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Frail Elderly*
  • Gait / physiology
  • Hand Strength / physiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk