Call 7 days a week for free advice

0808 303 7503*

Branding older people

7th August 2015

A study conducted by the British Geriatrics Society, in conjunction with Age UK, has revealed that doctors who describe older patients as ‘frail’ could be harming their health. This is because those labelled in this way are less likely to seek help for common conditions, as they find the term both offensive and judgemental.

Specialists classify a patient’s needs on a ‘frailty’ scale, which allows them to fast-track older people who may be in need of particular care. However, using this language to describe a patient in person is having an undesirable effect, due to the negative connotations of the word, and is not a word that this age bracket would use to define themselves.

Routine medical term causing incredulity

Groups of older people were interviewed by researchers in order to record their definitions of ‘frail’, with associations of the word including ‘bony’, ‘shrivelled’, ‘skinny’, and ‘wasting away’. These were people such as stairlift users who would officially be classed as ‘living with frailty’, although many reacted to this statement with anger.

Those interviewed also saw this labelling as a permanent or terminal decline, rather than something which could be reversed with treatment, which was the most worrying result of the research. Following the research, it has been suggested that the NHS needs to reconsider the way it refers to older patients, in order to show that no matter how old or dependent a patient is, no one is beyond help.

In a Telegraph article, Caroline Abrahams, Director of Age UK, said: “Frailty is all at once a medical term and a noun, but as the research shows for many older people it feels like a judgment.

“Health and care services need to re-evaluate their use of the word ‘frailty’. It would be better to focus on the factors that may be underlying someone’s frailty and find solutions that help. This should also be reflected in how all professionals communicate with people.”

Image Credit: Nacho (

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.