New York Times: Pope’s retirement a reminder of the ails of old age

pope benedict frailPope Benedict XVI’s unexpected retirement has captured headlines across the world. While this post is in no way going to get into papal politics, a storyline pertinent to the senior care industry is that, as we reach old age, our bodies inevitably become more and more frail — even when you’re the pope.

Shedding light on this matter is an article by Paula Span on The New York Times‘ New Old Age Blog. The Vatican recently revealed that the 85-year-old pope has a pacemaker, signifying “long-standing heart problems,” according to the article. Other reported health issues affecting the pope include difficulty walking even short distances and a recent fall in Mexico, leading Span to ask the simple question — is the now-former pope frail?

But what exactly is frailty? According to the Oxford’s Journals of Gerontology, “Frailty is considered highly prevalent in old age and to confer high risk for falls, disability, hospitalization, and mortality.” Still, a standardized definition of geriatric frailty has yet to be established.

The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation states that a person must meet three of the five following criteria to be considered frail:

  1. Weight loss
  2. Exhaustion
  3. Weakness
  4. Slow walking speed
  5. Decreased physical activity

As Span notes, trying to diagnose the pope from afar is not the point, rather it’s realizing that frailty is a real concern for elders. Encouragingly, in it’s early stages frailty is a condition that is reversible or can be slowed. In the article, Columbia University’s Dr. Linda Fried recommends key exercises to accomplish this, including regular walking and moving to maintain strength and muscle mass.

While the pope will surely live out the rest of his days comfortably and in the best of care provided by the Vatican, millions of aging Americans face a different reality. One that potentially brings about a national crisis unless a workable and affordable system of long-term elderly care is established. But that’s an entirely different story.

Encompass Senior Solutions “ currently serving Omaha, Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa ” provides seniors and their families a complete understanding of the available care options and helps families maneuver through the challenges of the system. All Encompass services are directed by registered nurses or licensed clinical social workers with no long-term contracts. Contact us today for help with your senior care needs.

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“Encompass Senior Solutions solves the challenges families face in caring for aging parents, with a focus on strategies that keep them in their homes. To learn more about our solutions, visit http://www.encompass-assessments.com.”