2011 Volume 30 Issue 6 Pages 259-262
Frailty is a health problem that increases the probability of developing adverse health outcomes in the elderly. A frequently used way to operationalize frailty is the construction of a frailty index, which is built from the addition of several health deficits that describe biological aging. However, there is no consensus about the number of health deficits for building a frailty index and about which deficits must be chosen. This lack of a standardized frailty index is assumed to be an obstacle for the advancement of research on frailty. The focus of the present article is to propose a theoretically plausible alternative way of operationalizing frailty by means of frailty indexes composed of deficits selected at a local level. These deficits would therefore be different for each given population. This “anthropological approach” is on the opposite side from current trends in frailty research, which is characterized by the search for a standardized operational definition of frailty. The anthropological approach would generate more reliable data by taking into account the specificity of the population to be studied for selecting frailty deficits. In this approach, emotions, motives, and beliefs are as important to determine individuals' health vulnerability as chronic diseases and physical function. Physiological anthropologists are well positioned to contribute to research on frailty by carrying out studies on the selection of the best deficits to operationalize frailty in different populations, with different socio-cultural determinants of health, and living in different environmental life spaces.