Little is known about the natural course of frailty. We performed a prospective study to determine the transition rates between frailty states and to evaluate the effect of the preceding frailty state on subsequent frailty transitions.
We studied 754 community-living persons, aged 70 years or older, who were nondisabled in 4 essential activities of daily living. Frailty, assessed every 18 months for 54 months, was defined on the basis of weight loss, exhaustion, low physical activity, muscle weakness, and slow walking speed. Participants were classified as frail if they met 3 or more of these criteria, as prefrail if they met 1 or 2 of the criteria, and as nonfrail if they met none of the criteria.
Of the 754 participants, 434 (57.6%) had at least 1 transition between any 2 of the 3 frailty states during 54 months. The rates were 36.8%, 21.5%, and 9.2% for 1, 2, and 3 transitions, respectively. During the 18-month intervals, transitions to states of greater frailty were more common (rates up to 43.3%) than transitions to states of lesser frailty (rates up to 23.0%), and the probability of transitioning from being frail to nonfrail was very low (rates, 0%-0.9%), even during an extended period. The likelihood of transitioning between frailty states was highly dependent on one's preceding frailty state.
Frailty among older persons is a dynamic process, characterized by frequent transitions between frailty states over time. Our findings suggest ample opportunity for the prevention and remediation of frailty.