Giving up smoking early may potentially prevent or delay developing frailty, even in old age, suggests new research. The study, published in the journal Age & Ageing, showed that current smoking was associated with an approximately 60 per cent increased risk of developing frailty. Frailty is a condition associated with decreased physiological reserve and increased vulnerability to adverse health outcomes. The outcomes include falls, fractures, disability, hospitalisation and institutionalisation. Frailty has also been shown to be linked to worse psychological or cognitive outcomes, such as poor quality of life and dementia. “Our study showed that current smoking is a risk factor of developing frailty,” said one of the study authors Gotaro Kojima of University College London. Smoking increases the risk of developing a number of diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease, all of which can potentially have negative effects on people’s physical, psychological and social health. “Additional analyses revealed that COPD seems a main factor on the causal pathway from smoking towards frailty, but those who quit smoking did not carry over the risk of frailty,” Kojima said. COPD is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases.
The researchers used data from a nationally representative sample of older men and women living in England. They defined frailty using a combination of five physical frailty components — unintentional weight loss, self-reported exhaustion, weakness, slow walking speed, and low physical activity. Frailty was classified as having three or more of the five criteria. The current study used data of participants who were aged 60 years or older. The final sample for this study was 2,542 participants, divided into two groups — current smokers and non-smokers. The non-smokers were further divided into another two groups: past smokers and never smokers. The past smokers were once again divided into two groups: Those who quit within the last 10 years and those who quit more than 10 years ago. The analysis revealed that current smoking in older people was associated with risk of developing frailty, though former smokers did not appear to be at higher risk.