The prevalence and characteristics of frailty by frailty phenotype in rural Tanzania

BMC Geriatr. 2018 Nov 16;18(1):283. doi: 10.1186/s12877-018-0967-0.


Background: The frailty phenotype is defined by the presence of three from the following five clinical features: weakness, slow walking speed, unintentional weight loss, exhaustion, and low physical activity. It has been widely applied in different research and clinical contexts, including across many low and middle-income countries. However, there is evidence that the operationalisation of each component of the frailty phenotype significantly alters its characteristics and predictive validity, and care is needed when applying the phenotype across settings. The study's objective was to operationalise the frailty phenotype in a rural Tanzanian population of older community-dwelling adults.

Methods: Consenting adults aged ≥60 years, and resident in five randomly selected villages of Hai district Demographic Surveillance Site, were eligible to participate in this cross-sectional study. From a screened sample of 1207 older adults, 235 were randomised and consented to an assessment of their frailty status by the frailty phenotype. Trained research fieldworkers (Tanzanian medical doctors and nurses) carried out measurements and questionnaires at local village centres or at participants' homes.

Results: The prevalence of the frailty phenotype, calculated from complete data for 196 participants, was 9.25% (95% CI 4.39-14.12) When missing data were counted as meeting frailty criterion (i.e. missing due to inability to perform an assessment), the prevalence increased to 11.22% (95% CI 7.11-15.32). Frailty by phenotype criteria was more common in older age groups, and was associated with self-assessed poor health and depression symptoms.

Conclusions: Frailty can be successfully estimated using the frailty phenotype, however there are challenges in its operationalisation cross-culturally. Further work is needed to explore the potential clinical application of the frailty phenotype in such settings.

Keywords: Frailty; Frailty phenotype; Older adults; Prevalence; Sub-Saharan Africa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Female
  • Frail Elderly / psychology*
  • Frailty / diagnosis
  • Frailty / epidemiology*
  • Frailty / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype*
  • Prevalence
  • Random Allocation
  • Rural Population / trends*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tanzania / epidemiology
  • Weight Loss / physiology