King’s College London: Adults with depression, anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder at increased risk of frailty

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Frailty is a medical syndrome characterised by age-related declines in functioning that is strongly associated with mortality.

The research, published in BMC Medicine, examined the risk of death associated with frailty in individuals with depression, anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder. Researchers now suggest that screening for frailty might help identify individuals with mental disorders who are at risk of premature mortality.

Using data from the UK Biobank, researchers analysed data from almost 300,000 adults between 2006 and 2010. Participants’ degree of frailty was determined using two measures which incorporated key indicators of poor health, such as weight loss, exhaustion, physical fitness, pain and respiratory difficulties.

They found that physical frailty was more common in people with depression (4.7%), anxiety disorder (4.2%) or bipolar disorder (5.5%) than in those without a mental illness (1.8%).

“Our study shows that depression and bipolar disorder are associated with a reduced life expectancy and elevated levels of frailty. This remained true even after we accounted for other characteristics like smoking status, alcohol consumption, blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol levels.”
– Dr Julian Mutz, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at King’s Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre and the study’s lead author
Dr Julian Mutz, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at King’s Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre and the study’s lead author said,

“There is increasing evidence that frailty can be prevented, treated and potentially delayed. This means that where frailty and mental illness co-occur, frailty represents a potentially modifiable target for improving health and life expectancy of people with mental illness.”

The researchers suggest that screening for frailty should become the norm in clinical settings. Dr Mutz said, “Screening is an invaluable tool for clinicians. The only way to treat frailty effectively is to ensure we spot it. Concurrent to this we should also screen for poor mental health as mental disorders tend to be under-recognised in individuals presenting with high levels of frailty and physical comorbidities.”

This research was conducted using data from UK Biobank and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The study was partly funded by the UK Medical Research Council.

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