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Keywords:

  • frailty;
  • prevalence;
  • elderly

Objectives

To systematically compare and pool the prevalence of frailty, including prefrailty, reported in community-dwelling older people overall and according to sex, age, and definition of frailty used.

Design

Systematic review of the literature using the key words elderly, aged, frailty, prevalence, and epidemiology.

Setting

Cross-sectional data from community-based cohorts.

Participants

Community-dwelling adults aged 65 and older.

Measurements

In the studies that were found, frailty and prefrailty were measured according to physical phenotype and broad phenotype, the first defining frailty as a purely physical condition and the second also including psychosocial aspects.

Results

Reported prevalence in the community varies enormously (range 4.0–59.1%). The overall weighted prevalence of frailty was 10.7% (95% confidence interval (CI) = 10.5–10.9; 21 studies; 61,500 participants). The weighted prevalence was 9.9% for physical frailty (95% CI = 9.6–10.2; 15 studies; 44,894 participants) and 13.6% for the broad phenotype of frailty (95% CI = 13.2–14.0; 8 studies; 24,072 participants) (chi-square (χ2) = 217.7, degrees of freedom (df)=1, < .001). Prevalence increased with age (χ2 = 6067, df = 1, < .001) and was higher in women (9.6%, 95% CI = 9.2–10.0%) than in men (5.2%, 95% CI = 4.9–5.5%; χ2 = 298.9 df = 1, < .001).

Conclusion

Frailty is common in later life, but different operationalization of frailty status results in widely differing prevalence between studies. Improving the comparability of epidemiological and clinical studies constitutes an important step forward.