Frailty has its Roots in Early Development - Folkhälsan

16 March 2022

Frailty has its Roots in Early Development

A recent study at Folkhälsan Research Center (FHRC) showed that early life factors contribute to the expression of frailty later in life. Early life factors may help identify groups which may benefit from frailty prevention and thus allow initiating preventive efforts early.

The results show that early life factors contribute to how frailty evolves later in life. These factors may help identify groups that could benefit from frailty prevention measures, and early identification allows for targeted interventions.

Frailty is a common geriatric syndrome that predispose individuals to negative health outcomes such as disability, hospitalization and premature mortality. Theoretically, frailty is defined as a state of increased vulnerability due to aging-associated decline of function across several physiological systems. These affect the individual’s ability to cope with stressors and adversities in life.

– We used the Frailty Index (FI) to determine frailty. The FI counts the accumulated number of deficits over a longer period of time. These include physical and cognitive impairments, clinical and laboratory measurements, symptoms, disability, and chronic diseases. FI is a sensitive measure of frailty, which is paramount, since early identification of risk allows for early preventive measures, Markus Haapanen, a postdoctoral researcher at the FHRC summarizes.


In the study, larger body size at birth was associated with a slower increase in frailty levels from midlife into old age. Higher maternal BMI was associated with higher frailty levels in midlife, but slower increase of frailty from midlife into old age. Larger size and accelerated growth in childhood, and lower childhood socioeconomic status were associated with a higher level of frailty in midlife but not with its development.

– The results show that early life factors contribute to how frailty evolves later in life. These factors may help identify groups that could benefit from frailty prevention measures, and early identification allows for targeted interventions, says Mikaela von Bonsdorff, associate professor at the University of Jyväskylä and FHRC.

Photography: Joonas Lampela

The study used data from 2000 participants from the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study aged 57-84 years. The data consisted of three measurement occasions from the last 17 years, when the Frailty Index had been calculated for each participant. Moreover, information on birth size, maternal body mass index (BMI), growth parameters in infancy and childhood, childhood socioeconomic status, as well as early life stress factors were obtained from national registers and healthcare records.

Reference:
Haapanen MJ, Jylhävä J, Kortelainen L, Mikkola TM, Salonen M, Wasenius NS, Kajantie E, Eriksson JG, von Bonsdorff MB. Early life factors as predictors of age-associated deficit accumulation across 17 years from midlife into old age. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2022 Jan 9:glac007. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glac007. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35018457.

Simon Granroth, Science Communicator