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New Study Finds Increased Risk Social Frailty in Older Adults 

Written by: Vaishnavi Peyyety, Current Events Staff Writer


Strabane Woods is a UPMC senior community in Washington PA. (Courtesy : Regan Carlson)
MAR. 21,2023 – After the COVID-19 pandemic many individuals were impacted socially, losing relationships and finding it difficult to connect with others. Although there has been coverage on how this impacts younger generations, there has not been enough news on how this is affecting older populations, except for very recently as new studies and research comes out.  
Being “socially vulnerable” or “socially frail” can come with a host of problems, especially in older populations. According to Dr. Li-Xue, social frailty is correlated with weakness, exhaustion, unintentional weight loss, lethargy and low levels of physical activity and this vulnerability can increase risk of hospitalization, disability or even earlier death in older people. But what defines social frailty? This term can be characterized by a lack of close relationships with one’s family, friends or community groups.  
Those who are socially frail do not have as many resources or people to reach out to and may feel a lack of control over their life. This can lead to poor social determinants of health such as low socioeconomic status, unsafe housing, lack of transportation and/or poor nutrition. 
“Those who are socially frail do not have as many resources or people to reach out to and may feel a lack of control over their life.” 
Researchers are paying close attention to this issue. Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of California, San Francisco published a social frailty index in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal in February. The data comes from a Health and Retirement Study conducted from 2010 to 2016 with over 8,000 adults 65 years and older.  
“Our goal is to help clinicians identify older patients who are socially frail and to prompt problem-solving designed to help them cope with various challenges,” said coauthor of the study, Dr. Sachin Shah of Massachusetts General Hospital.  
“Paying attention to the social necessities of older adults ensures our society is meeting the needs of all people.” 
Dr. Linda Fried, a geriatric and epidemiology researcher and dean at Columbia University, believes that society must create solutions for common problems older adults face as shown by the index. These solutions could take the form of more volunteer opportunities for older adults to partake in or greater awareness among the public of the negative impacts of ageism and discrimination.  
Additionally, physicians must screen older adults to determine if their social needs are being met. This can lead to modifications in plan of care or referrals to social workers. Without this vital information, physicians may neglect important emotional aspects of patients’ lives. Indeed, the results of this social frailty index and comments from geriatric researchers indicate paying attention to the social necessities of older adults ensures our society is meeting the needs of all people.  
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