SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Research has shown that older adults are especially vulnerable to health risks whenever they are considered to be more socially frail. But what is social frailty?

If you are familiar with the term “frailty” in reference to older adults, you might have an idea of what this term means. If you aren’t familiar, here is a quick explanation of what frailty means:

Frailty is a clinical expression that refers to concern over an older person’s vulnerability and prognosis. In other words, frailty is a term doctors use when they are concerned about an older person’s ability to recover from an illness or other injury like a fall.

According to an article published in the National Library of Medicine, there are five main indicators of physical frailty. These include weakness, a slow walking speed, low physical activity in general, self-reported exhaustion and weight loss that is unintentional.

What is “social” frailty?

Whereas physical frailty refers to a person’s body, social frailty refers to a person’s social environment. Do they have someone they can call if they get sick? What if they fall? Do people come and check up on them daily, weekly or monthly? Are their basic social needs met?

Someone experiences social frailty when these needs aren’t met. For an older generation, this could be detrimental to their physical health, potentially leading to their early death.

An example of a socially frail individual versus an individual who is not experiencing social frailty is easy to conjure. Imagine two people in their 70s who fall in their homes, injuring their backs in the process. What do they do?

For the socially frail individual, this might mean a death sentence. If they don’t have access to a phone nearby, they may be stranded for an extended period of time on the floor, waiting for help that may never come.

If they use the phone to call emergency services, they have no guarantee that they will have help when they return home. If the injury is severe, they may not be able to get to doctor’s appointments, go grocery shopping or perform other tasks they need to do to survive all because they do not have people around to help.

For the other individual, this dangerous situation may be easier to handle. If they don’t have access to the phone, maybe their child or spouse will become concerned after not hearing from them. Maybe their neighbor who they see frequently will stop by to check up on them.

If they do have access to their phone, they can call someone they know who lives near them to help them and assess if they need to go to the hospital. If the injury is severe, they will have people who can help them get to doctor’s appointments, go grocery shopping and perform other tasks they need to do to survive.

How can you help?

The ways to best help those who are experiencing social frailty are still being researched. However, unlike physical frailty, there are steps you can take right now to ensure that those who are socially frail in your community are being taken care of.

Checking up on your neighbors, developing relationships with those in your community who are most at risk of becoming isolated and keeping up with your own aging family members are great places to start.

Further information about social frailty can be found here.