Good nutrition, physical activity and brain training, or a combination of all three, can reverse physical frailty in seniors suggests new research.
Carried out by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in collaboration with Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and St Luke’s Hospital, the four-year study recruited 250 community-living seniors in Singapore who were 65 years old and above and showing signs of frailty.
Physical frailty is common among seniors, and is strongly associated with cognitive impairment, dementia and other adverse health outcomes including disability, hospitalization, and even death.
Previous research by the same team, led by Associate Professor Ng Tze Pin, has already shown that when compared to more robust elderly persons, physically frail seniors are eight times more likely to also be cognitive impaired as well as frail, and if they are not yet cognitively impaired, they are five times more likely to develop the condition within a three-year follow-up.
“In addition, physically frail elderly persons are two to 10 times as likely to become functionally disabled on daily living activities, hospitalized and die earlier than their robust counterparts,” added Assoc Prof Ng.
“When physical frailty and cognitive impairment are present together in the same individual, he or she is more than 20 times as likely to become disabled, hospitalized or die earlier. With such compelling evidence, if it is possible to reduce or even reverse physical frailty in the elderly, we could greatly improve their quality of life.”
For the new research the team randomly allocated participants to receive lifestyle interventions in one of five groups for a period of six months. Three groups of participants were provided with either physical training, nutritional enhancement or cognitive training, while the fourth group received a combination of all three interventions.
The last group was a control group which did not receive any intervention. The team assessed the participants’ frailty before the start of intervention and their progress after three and six months. A follow-up assessment was also carried out 12 months after the start of intervention.
The results showed that participants who partook in physical training, nutritional enhancement or cognitive training, or a combination of all three, showed a reduction in frailty and depressive symptoms, and an improvement in cognitive functioning, gait speed, and muscle strength, with Assoc Prof Ng commenting that, “As such, these interventions can go a long way to reducing the high prevalence of physical disability, hospitalization and mortality in an ageing society like Singapore.”
Assoc Prof Ng added that, “The important message from our studies is that frailty is not an inevitable part of ageing. There is much that older people can do for themselves to avoid becoming frail and disabled, so it is vital that they pay attention to good quality diet and nutrition, engage in physical exercise, and participate in socially and cognitively stimulating activities.”