Frailty


Mom has not fully recovered since her hospitalisation some months ago. In fact, we seem to be caught in a vicious cycle of repeated bouts of illness and weakness. At the most, she is well for a week, and this cheers us up as we embark on exercises and sunning and making plans for excursions. Too soon, however, her next infection will be upon us.

Sometimes it starts with lethargy, and she cannot finish her food. She starts to slow down and shuffle. Oftentimes, she ends up sitting on the bathroom floor, unable to get up.

But she cannot tell us she is not well, or that she has slipped onto the floor. Instead she says she is Okay. We have become detectives to spot the early signs of illness. Is Mom wrapping herself up as though she is cold? Does she tremble a little more when she walks? Has she stopped smiling? Has she stopped talking? Just the other day, she did not return my greeting when I came home – she glanced at me and looked away mute. It was as though she couldn’t hear me, and then couldn’t see me.

Out came the thermometer, BP set, and then the antibiotics. Dinner plans are canceled, family members called to standby. I dread the possibility the antibiotics do not work.

So I learned a new word recently – frailty. As used by healthcare professionals describe the condition of old persons who are declining. It is defined by weight loss, increasing debility and inability to fight off simple infections. Mom doesn’t quite meet the definition yet – she is maintaining her weight (barely), and she does recover her strength between infections (somewhat).

Already, I have made plans for what I will do differently when Mom recovers from this episode of infection, her second this month. I’m not ready to give up hope yet. “Frailty” is not here, but I sense him near, perhaps just around the next corner, waiting. I hope we can keep him away for a long while more…

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23 thoughts on “Frailty”

  1. I know so well the cycle of infection followed by a short period of being well – but never quite as well as before – then the next infection. From the start of October my dad has had a UTI, shingles, pneumonia, cellulitis and then gout. The treament for gout includes a steroid whcih has given him a boost like nothing else does. Wish the doctor would rpescribe it once a month to keep the frailty at bay!

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    1. That’s a whole series of unpleasant infections and inflammations! I hope he breaks out of the cycle soon! Steroids can add to muscle wasting as well, so just as well they are used sparingly.

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  2. Caregivers such as yourself become detectives where their loved ones are concerned. Oftentimes, the search for clues turns up the type of health or physical abnormalities you describe in your post. With you, I hope the cycle of infection is stopped.

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  3. I have so often seen this cycle, particularly in folks who are cognitively-impaired. As we get older, our immune systems are not what they once were, even in the healthy aged. And, while you or I might recognize that tell-tale burning or urgency to urinate that comes with a bladder infection, someone else’s brain may have lost the ability to connect the two things, or perhaps lacks the problem solving abilities to know what to do about it. Or, they may have a memory loss such that by the time they get to the bathroom or to their caregiver, they have forgotten what they were going to report. And so, caregivers like you come to rely on other signals to suggest that something may not be quite right. It’s kind of like when you had a baby, and learned to tell from the sound of the baby’s cry when she wasn’t feeling well. I know of one family who routinely had their mother’s urine checked when she started talking “out of her head.” (it’s so much easier these days to test for a UTI. You might be able to keep a test kit at home, and do it yourself after some instruction from your physician’s office.)

    My thoughts and prayers go out to you and all those brave, loving souls who have entrusted themselves with the care of a loved one.

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  4. This is where we were when Bo was hospitalized 4 times and after he came home the last time, it seemed he was moving into that stage permanently, but then he seemed to rebound, although not cognitively. Fevers seem to be the real enemy of dementia.

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  5. My husband and I will soon enter your world as full-time caregivers of his mother with dementia/Alzheimer’s. I am thankful for the posts I read from those of you going through it. There is a silver lining in our journey and it’s called “love” of the deepest kind.

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  6. Yes, as caregivers for our parents, we do become detectives. That is a very good description. I will need to remember it. I understand the fear you have in regards to you mom. Like your mom, mine never recovers her original strength from before the infection.
    I am trying like crazy trying to figure out why the body gets so many infections and repeating the same infections. I recognize that frailty and the decline of an aging body and mind are parts of the equation, but why. That is the million dollar question.

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  7. I have tremendous admiration for your inner strength, your optimistic resolve and your unwavering love for your mother. Here’s hoping that her condition will stabilise somewhat and the both of you can take a well-deserved break.

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