Global frailty: the role of ethnicity, migration and socioeconomic factors

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Frailty is an important consequence of ageing, whereby frail patients are more likely to face adverse outcomes, such as disability and death. Risk of frailty increases in people with poor biological health, and has been shown in many ethnicities and countries. In economically developed countries, 10% of older adults are living with frailty. Ethnic minorities in the West face significant health inequalities. However, little is known about frailty prevalence and the nature of frailty in different ethnic groups. This has implications for healthcare planning and
delivery, especially screening and the development of interventions. Global frailty prevalence is variable: low- to middle-income countries demonstrate higher rates of frailty than high-income countries, but available evidence is low. Little is known about the characteristics of these differences. However, female sex, lower economic status, lower education levels, and multimorbidity are identified risk factors. Ethnic minority migrants in economically developed countries demonstrate higher rates of frailty than white indigenous older people and are more likely
to be frail when younger. Similar patterns are also seen in indigenous ethnic minority marginalised groups in economically developed countries such as the US, Australia and New Zealand, who have a higher prevalence of frailty than the majority white population. Frailty trajectories between ethnic minority migrants and white indigenous groups in high-income countries converge in the ‘oldest old’ age group, with little or no difference inprevalence. Frailty risk can be attenuated in migrants with improvements in integration, citizenship status, and access to healthcare. Ethnicity may play some role in frailty pathways, but, so far, the evidence suggests frailty is a manifestation of lifetime environmental exposure to adversity and risk accumulation.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-41
Early online date24 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


  • Frailty, Global ageing, Migration, Ethnicity