Frailty and pre-frailty in middle-aged and older adults and its association with multimorbidity and mortality: a prospective analysis of 493 737 UK Biobank participants

Lancet Public Health. 2018 Jul;3(7):e323-e332. doi: 10.1016/S2468-2667(18)30091-4. Epub 2018 Jun 14.


Background: Frailty is associated with older age and multimorbidity (two or more long-term conditions); however, little is known about its prevalence or effects on mortality in younger populations. This paper aims to examine the association between frailty, multimorbidity, specific long-term conditions, and mortality in a middle-aged and older aged population.

Methods: Data were sourced from the UK Biobank. Frailty phenotype was based on five criteria (weight loss, exhaustion, grip strength, low physical activity, slow walking pace). Participants were deemed frail if they met at least three criteria, pre-frail if they fulfilled one or two criteria, and not frail if no criteria were met. Sociodemographic characteristics and long-term conditions were examined. The outcome was all-cause mortality, which was measured at a median of 7 years follow-up. Multinomial logistic regression compared sociodemographic characteristics and long-term conditions of frail or pre-frail participants with non-frail participants. Cox proportional hazards models examined associations between frailty or pre-frailty and mortality. Results were stratified by age group (37-45, 45-55, 55-65, 65-73 years) and sex, and were adjusted for multimorbidity count, socioeconomic status, body-mass index, smoking status, and alcohol use.

Findings: 493 737 participants aged 37-73 years were included in the study, of whom 16 538 (3%) were considered frail, 185 360 (38%) pre-frail, and 291 839 (59%) not frail. Frailty was significantly associated with multimorbidity (prevalence 18% [4435/25 338] in those with four or more long-term conditions; odds ratio [OR] 27·1, 95% CI 25·3-29·1) socioeconomic deprivation, smoking, obesity, and infrequent alcohol consumption. The top five long-term conditions associated with frailty were multiple sclerosis (OR 15·3; 99·75% CI 12·8-18·2); chronic fatigue syndrome (12·9; 11·1-15·0); chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (5·6; 5·2-6·1); connective tissue disease (5·4; 5·0-5·8); and diabetes (5·0; 4·7-5·2). Pre-frailty and frailty were significantly associated with mortality for all age strata in men and women (except in women aged 37-45 years) after adjustment for confounders.

Interpretation: Efforts to identify, manage, and prevent frailty should include middle-aged individuals with multimorbidity, in whom frailty is significantly associated with mortality, even after adjustment for number of long-term conditions, sociodemographics, and lifestyle. Research, clinical guidelines, and health-care services must shift focus from single conditions to the requirements of increasingly complex patient populations.

Funding: CSO Catalyst Grant and National Health Service Research for Scotland Career Research Fellowship.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biological Specimen Banks
  • Female
  • Frailty / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Multimorbidity / trends*
  • Prospective Studies
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology