Understanding the lives of people living with frailty

An older man walking in his garden

In the first of a series of blog posts, we talk about a major piece of research published by Age UK with Ipsos MORI on the experience of living with frailty.

In April, we reported on the Government’s efforts to transform primary care, which set out a programme to deliver better coordinated, well-planned care for the most “vulnerable” people being supported by GPs.

This included providing a named GP for all people over 75 and a dedicated package of services for the 2% of people on a GP’s practice list with the highest needs (regardless of age).

If you have any feedback on how this is starting to work in your area, please leave a comment below.

The terms “frail” and “vulnerable” are often used interchangeably in this context. What is often lost is the person behind the terms and the things in their life that are making them “frail” or “vulnerable”.

Age UK set out to better understand the lived experience of people living with frailty. We worked with Ipsos MORI to spend time with older people to hear and see the challenges they face and what in their lives was important to them.

You can read the full report here, including powerful interviews with the people that took part.

There are a number of important headlines that came out of the research.


The first is that almost universally, “frailty” was rejected as a term. Though there was some sense that it could be recognised in others, people did not see it as a way to describe themselves.

This has important implications for how those that care for older people roll out initiatives such as the programme mentioned above, which risks alienating people by rooting their needs in terms of their vulnerability and frailty rather than their capabilities.

The second headline was loneliness. A wide range of participants said how they missed relationships with friends and in some instances there was resignation that they can no longer expect to have peer relationships.

In many cases, they were not socially isolated. They had good relationships and support from family and partners. But as with any other part of your life, breadth and quality of relationships were equally important and less was being done to facilitate this.

With the negative health impacts of loneliness becoming more understood, this issue is too important to ignore.


A third headline was that people who were supported and able to adapt to changing health needs were on the whole better off. Older people are more likely to live with multiple long-term conditions and disability, but it can often be the inability to respond to this that creates challenges, rather than simply the conditions themselves.

To return to the start of this blog post, what does this mean for the NHS and does the Government’s programme help?  As we said in April, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Identifying people living with frailty; planning their care in a coordinated way; and creating responsive services for urgent needs (all features of the plan) must become a minimum, and not just for 2% of the practice list.

However, putting this medical response in the context of the headline issues above is going to be crucial to improving people’s daily lives.

Planning for what’s important for the person receiving care rather than simply a clinical outcome must become a central feature of how we support older people living with frailty.

In future blog posts, we will look at a range of key themes from the report. Next week we will look at acknowledging frailty.

Author: Tom Gentry

Policy adviser - health services @tomogentry

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