Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle
© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

From sarcopenia to frailty: a road less traveled

John E. Morley , Stephan von Haehling2, Stefan D. Anker2 and Bruno Vellas3
Divisions of Geriatric Medicine and Endocrinology, School of Medicine, Saint Louis University, 1402 S. Grand Blvd., M238, St. Louis, MO 63104, USA
Applied Cachexia Research, Department of Cardiology, Campus Virchow-Klinikum, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Gerontologie Clinique, CHU Toulouse, Toulouse, France
John E. Morley
Received: 24 January 2014Accepted: 24 January 2014Published online: 14 February 2014
The physical frailty phenotype consists of fatigue, weight loss, and loss of muscle power. Sarcopenia has been shown to be a major cause of frailty. Six societies including SCWD published a consensus suggesting that all persons older than 70 years of age should be screened for frailty when seeing health professionals. Simple screening tests such as the FRAIL (fatigue, resistance, aerobic, illness, and loss of weight) scale can be used. It is felt that frailty can be treated by exercise (resistance and aerobic), high quality protein, vitamin D, and treatment of the common causes of fatigue. It is expected that this approach will decrease disability in older persons.

1 Introduction

Health-care professionals are accustomed to seeing frail older persons, but rarely do they recognize the role of sarcopenia in the pathogenesis of frailty. Even more rarely do they institute an aggressive treatment regimen to improve the older person’s quality of life. For this reason, six societies, including the SCWD, published a consensus statement that defined frailty as “a medical syndrome with multiple causes and contributors that is characterized by diminished strength, endurance and reduced physiologic function that increases an individual’s vulnerability for developing increased dependency and/or death” [1]. They further agreed that frailty is a treatable condition. For this reason, they agreed that “all persons older than 70 years and all individuals with significant weight loss (5 %) due to chronic disease, should be screened for frailty.”
An objective definition for a physical frailty phenotype was created and validated in 2001 by Fried et al. [2]. Their definition included weight loss, exhaustion, weakness (grip strength), walking speed, and low physical activity. They found that it was present in approximately 7 % of persons in the cardiovascular health study. Based on this schema, a simple five-point questionnaire was developed by the International Association of Nutrition and Aging (Table 1) [3]. Another approach to frailty screening was developed by Rockwood et al. [4]. This consists of adding together all the deficits a person has and then mathematically designating a frailty score. While this is highly predictive of poor outcomes, it is more of a comorbid score than a physical frailty index. It has also been recognized that persons with psychosocial frailty as well as physical frailty tend to have even worse outcomes [510].
Table 1
The simple FRAIL scale
Resistance (can you climb a flight of stairs?)
Aerobic (can you walk a block?)
Illness (>5)
Loss of weight (5 % in 6 months)
Three or more positive answers, frail; one or two positive answers, prefrail
The FRAIL (fatigue, resistance, aerobic, illness, and loss of weight) scale has been validated by six separate studies and appears to perform as well as the other more complex scales [1116]. Of the five components of the FRAIL scale, both resistance (climb a flight of stairs) and aerobic (walk one block) are clearly components of sarcopenia as now defined by multiple groups [1721]. In addition, while there are many causes of fatigue (e.g., anemia, endocrine disorders, sleep apnea, polypharmacy, depression, and vitamin B12 deficiency), it is now well recognized that a major cause of fatigue in conditions such as heart failure is poor muscle function [22, 23]. While weight loss is not universal in sarcopenia, loss of muscle can lead to weight loss in persons who do not develop obese sarcopenia [24], and it is a hallmark of cachexia [25, 26]. Persons with multiple illnesses usually have a loss of muscle mass and function.
The frailty consensus statement recommended that the treatments for frailty should be exercise (resistance and aerobic), protein-calorie supplementation, vitamin D, and reduction of polypharmacy. All of these are key treatments for sarcopenia [27]. The evidence that exercise (particularly resistance exercise) when maintained can have marked effects on frailty and sarcopenia is now very strong [2833]. The major problem is that this form of exercise therapy needs to be provided in a long term, i.e., for at least a year, where it performs better than conventional physical therapy [34]. It is the time that health-care agencies fund “coaches” to do twice weekly home visits to do resistance exercise for a year or longer. There is increasing evidence for exercise to be coupled with high quality protein to provide optimal muscle performance [3539]. Persons with low vitamin D have been demonstrated to have decreased strength and increased falls [40, 41]. Replacement of vitamin D in these persons appears to improve strength and decrease hip fractures [42]. Calorie replacement decreases mortality and possibly improves function in persons with malnutrition [43]. For an optimal effect, calorie supplementations should be given between meals [44].
In addition to these basic treatments, there is an increasing interest in developing drugs to treat sarcopenia [45]. Testosterone has been demonstrated to increase muscle mass and strength in older persons with and without frailty [4651]. Its possible side effects have led to enthusiasm to produce selective androgen receptor molecules, and one of these, enobosarm, has shown some promise [52]. A variety of other drugs are in earlier stages of development for treating sarcopenia and cachexia [53].
This editorial has suggested that sarcopenia is the major cause of frailty. Frailty can be screened for by general practitioners as demonstrated by the Gerontopole Frailty Screening Tool [54, 55]. A simple screening tool, the FRAIL, takes less than 15 s to do and does not require a physician to administer it. Treatments for frailty clearly exist.
For these reasons we suggest that it is time to couple sarcopenia and frailty and increase its community awareness. The German hidden garden provides a new wonderful view around each corner. If physicians begin to recognize sarcopenia and physical frailty and utilize the simple management strategies available, they will begin to have revealed to them the wonders of watching frail, and sarcopenic persons become more functional and happier in a way similar to how each few steps in a hidden garden reveals yet another wonder.
The authors of this manuscript certify that they comply with the ethical guidelines for authorship and publishing in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia, and Muscle 2010; 1:7–8 (von Haehling S, Morley JE, Coats AJ, and Anker SD).
Conflict of interest
John Morley, Stephan von Haehling, Stefan Anker and Bruno Vellas declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Morley JE, Vellas B, van Kan GA, Anker SD, Bauer JM, Bernabei R, et al. Frailty consensus: a call to action. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013;14:392–7.PubMedCrossRef
Fried LP, Tangen CM, Walston J, Newman AB, Hirsch C, Gottdiener J, et al. Frailty in older adults: evidence for a phenotype. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2001;56:M146–56.PubMedCrossRef
Abellan van Kan G, Rolland Y, Bergman H, Morley JE, Kritchevsky SB, Vellas B. The I.A.N.A. Task Force on frailty assessment of older people in clinical practice. J Nutr Health Aging. 2008;12:29–37.PubMedCrossRef
Rockwood K, Abeysundera MJ, Mitnitski A. How should we grade frailty in nursing home patients? J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2007;8:595–603.PubMedCrossRef
Malmstrom TK, Morley JE. Frailty and cognition: linking two common syndromes in older persons. J Nutr Health Aging. 2013;17:723–5.PubMedCrossRef
Kelaiditi E, Cesari M, Canevelli M, van Kan GA, Ousset PJ, Gilette-Guyonnet S, et al. Cognitive frailty: rational and definition from an (I.A.N.A./I.A.G.G.) international consensus group. J Nutr Health Aging. 2013;17:726–34.PubMedCrossRef
Cano C, Samper-Ternent R, Al Snih S, Markides K, Ottenbacher KJ. Frailty and cognitive impairment as predictors of mortality in older Mexican Americans. J Nutr Health Aging. 2012;16:142–7.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRef
Yassuda MS, Lopes A, Cachioni M, Falcao DV, Batistoni SS, Guimaraes VV, et al. Frailty criteria and cognitive performance are related: data from the FIBRA study in Ermelino Matarazzo, São Paulo, Brazil. J Nutr Health Aging. 2012;16:55–61.PubMedCrossRef
Mitnitski A, Fallah N, Rockwood MR, Rockwood K. Transitions in cognitive status in relation to frailty in older adults: a comparison of three frailty measures. J Nutr Health Aging. 2011;15:863–7.PubMedCrossRef
Shimada H, Makizako H, Doi T, Yoshida D, Tsutsumimoto K, Anan Y, et al. Combined prevalence of frailty and mild cognitive impairment in a population of elderly Japanese people. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013;14:518–24.PubMedCrossRef
Hyde Z, Flicker L, Almeida OP, Hankey GJ, McCaul KA, Chubb SA, et al. Low free testosterone predicts frailty in older men: the health in men study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010;95:3165–72.PubMedCrossRef
Lopez D, Flicker L, Dobson A. Validation of the frailty scale in a cohort of older Australian women. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012;60:171–3.PubMedCrossRef
Theou O, Brothers TD, Mitnitski A, Rockwood K. Operationalization of frailty using eight commonly used scales and comparison of their ability to predict all-cause mortality. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2013;61:1537–51.PubMedCrossRef
Woo J, Leung J, Morley JE. Comparison of frailty indicators based on clinical phenotype and the multiple deficit approach in predicting mortality and physical limitation. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012;60:1478–86.PubMedCrossRef
Morley JE, Malmstrom TK, Miller DK. A simple frailty questionnaire (FRAIL) predicts outcomes in middle aged African Americans. J Nutr Health Aging. 2012;16:601–6.PubMedCrossRef
Ravindrarajah R, Lee DM, Pye SR, Gielen E, Boonen S, Vanderschueren D, et al. The ability of three different models of frailty to predict all-cause mortality: results from the European Male Aging Study (EMAS). Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2013;57:360–8.PubMedCrossRef
von Haehling S, Morley JE, Anker SD. An overview of sarcopenia: facts and numbers on prevalence and clinical impact. J Cachex Sarcopenia Muscle. 2010;1:129–33.CrossRef
Fielding RA, Vellas B, Evans WJ, Bhasin S, Morley JE, Newman AB, et al. Sarcopenia: an undiagnosed condition in older adults. Current consensus definition: prevalence, etiology, and consequences. International working group on sarcopenia. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2011;12:249–56.PubMedCrossRef
Muscaritoli M, Anker SD, Argiles J, Aversa Z, Bauer JM, Biolo G, et al. Consensus definition of sarcopenia, cachexia and pre-cachexia: joint document elaborated by Special Interest Groups (SIG) “cachexia-anorexia in chronic wasting diseases” and “nutrition in geriatrics”. Clin Nutr. 2010;29:154–9.PubMedCrossRef
Cruz-Jentoft AJ, Baeyens JP, Bauer JM, Boirie Y, Cederholm T, Landi F, et al. Sarcopenia: European consensus on definition and diagnosis: report of the European Working Group on sarcopenia in older people. Age Ageing. 2010;39:412–23.PubMedCrossRef
Malmstrom TK, Miller DK, Herning MM, Morley JE. Low appendicular skeletal muscle mass (ASM) with limited mobility and poor health outcomes in middle-aged African Americans. J Cachex Sarcopenia Muscle. 2013;4:179–86.CrossRef
von Haehling S, Anker SD, Doehner W, Morley JE, Vellas B. Frailty and heart disease. Int J Cardiol. 2013;168:1745–7.CrossRef
Theou O, Jones GR, Overend TJ, Kloseck M, Vandervoort AA. An exploration of the association between frailty and muscle fatigue. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008;33:651–65.PubMedCrossRef
Morley JE. Weight loss in older persons: new therapeutic approaches. Curr Pharm Des. 2007;13:3637–47.PubMedCrossRef
Evans WJ, Morley JE, Argiles J, Bales C, Varacos V, Guttridge D, et al. Cachexia: a new definition. Clin Nutr. 2008;27:793–9.PubMedCrossRef
Farkas J, von Haehling S, Kalantar-Zadeh K, Morley JE, Anker SD, Lainscak M. Cachexia as a major public health problem: frequent, costly, and deadly. J Cachex Sarcopenia Muscle. 2013;4:173–8.CrossRef
Morley JE. Developing novel therapeutic approaches to frailty. Curr Pharm Des. 2009;15:3384–95.PubMedCrossRef
Coats AJ. Research on cachexia, sarcopenia and skeletal muscle in cardiology. J Cachex Sarcopenia Muscle. 2012;3:219–23.CrossRef
Gould DW, Lahart I, Carmichael AR, Koutedakis Y, Metsios GS. Cancer cachexia prevention via physical exercise: molecular mechanisms. J Cachex Sarcopenia Muscle. 2013;4:111–24.CrossRef
Silva RB, Eslick GD, Duque G. Exercise for falls and fracture prevention in long term care facilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013;14:685–689.e2.PubMedCrossRef
Argiles JM, Busquets S, Lopez-Soriano FJ, Costelli P, Penna F. Are there any benefits of exercise training in cancer cachexia? J Cachex Sarcopenia Muscle. 2012;3:73–6.CrossRef
von Haehling S, Morley JE, Anker SD. From muscle wasting to sarcopenia and myopenia: update 2012. J Cachex Sarcopenia Muscle. 2012;3:213–7.CrossRef
Theou O, Stathokostas L, Roland KP, Jakobie JM, Patterson C, Vandervoort AA, et al. The effectiveness of exercise interventions for the management of frailty: a systematic review. J Aging Res. 2011;4:569194. doi:10.​4061/​2011/​569194.
Singh NA, Quine S, Clemson LM, Williams EJ, Williamson DA, Stavrinos TM, et al. Effects of high-intensity progressive resistance training and targeted multidisciplinary treatment of frailty on mortality and nursing home admissions after hip fracture: a randomized controlled trial. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2012;13:24–30.PubMedCrossRef
Biorie Y. Fighting sarcopenia in older frail subjects: protein fuel for strength, exercise for mass. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013;14:140–3.CrossRef
Kim HK, Suzuki T, Saito K, Yoshida H, Kobayashi H, Kato H, et al. Effects of exercise and amino acid supplementation on body composition and physical function in community-dwelling elderly Japanese sarcopenic women: a randomized controlled trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012;60:16–23.PubMedCrossRef
Malafarina V, Uriz-Otano F, Iniesta R, Gil-Guerrero L. Effectiveness of nutritional supplementation on muscle mass in treatment of sarcopenia in old age: a systematic review. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013;14:10–7.PubMedCrossRef
Bauer J, Biolo G, Cederholm T, Cesari M, Cruz-Jentoft AJ, Morley JE, et al. Evidence-based recommendations for optimal dietary protein intake in older people: a position paper from the PROT-AGE Study Group. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013;14:542–59.PubMedCrossRef
Volpi E, Campbell WW, Dwyer JT, Johnson MA, Jensen GL, Morley JE, et al. Is the optimal level of protein intake for older adults greater than the recommended dietary allowance? J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2013;68:677–81.PubMedCrossRef
Girgis CM, Clifton-Bligh RJ, Turner N, Lau SL, Gunton JE. Effects of vitamin D in skeletal muscle: falls, strength, athletic performance and insulin sensitivity. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2014;80:169–81.CrossRef
Girgis CM, Clifton-Bligh RJ, Hamrick MW, Holick MF, Gunton JE. The roles of vitamin D in skeletal muscle: form, function, and metabolism. Endocr Rev. 2013;34:33–83.PubMedCrossRef
Murad MH, Elemain KB, Abu Elnour NO, Elamin MB, Alkatib AA, Fatourechi MM, et al. Clinical review: the effect of vitamin D on falls: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011;96:2997–3006.PubMedCrossRef
Soenen S, Chapman IM. Body weight, anorexia, and undernutrition in older people. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013;14:642–8.PubMedCrossRef
Wilson MM, Purushothaman R, Morley JE. Effect of liquid dietary supplements on energy intake in the elderly. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;75:944–7.PubMed
Vellas B, Pahor M, Manini T, Rooks D, Guralnik JM, Morley JE, et al. Designing pharmaceutical trials for sarcopenia in frail older adults: EU/US Task Force recommendations. J Nutr Health Aging. 2013;17:612–8.PubMedCrossRef
Morley JE. Androgens and aging. Maturitas. 2001;38:61–71.PubMedCrossRef
Strollo F, Strollo G, More M, Magni P, Macchi C, Masini MA, et al. Low-intermediate dose testosterone replacement therapy by different pharmaceutical preparations improves frailty score in elderly hypogonadal hyperglycaemic patients. Aging Male. 2013;16:33–7.PubMedCrossRef
Kenny AM, Kleppinger A, Annis K, Rathier M, Browner B, Judge JO, et al. Effects of transdermal testosterone on bone and muscle in older men with low bioavailable testosterone levels, low bone mass, and physical frailty. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010;58:1134–43.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRef
Srinivas-Shankar U, Roberts SA, Connolly MJ, O’Connell MD, Adams JE, Oldham JA, et al. Effects of testosterone on muscle strength, physical function, body composition, and quality of life in intermediate-frail and frail elderly men: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010;95:639–50.PubMedCrossRef
Wittert GA, Chapman IM, Haren MT, Mackintosh S, Coates P, Morley JE. Oral testosterone supplementation increases muscle and decreases fat mass in healthy elderly males with low-normal gonadal status. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2003;58:618–25.PubMedCrossRef
Wang C, Nieschlag E, Swerdloff R, Behre HM, Hellstrom WJ, Gooren LJ, et al. Investigation, treatment, and monitoring of late-onset hypogonadism in males: ISA, ISSAM, EAU, EAA, and ASA recommendations. J Androl. 2009;30:1–9.PubMedCrossRef
Dalton JT, Barnette KG, Bohl CE, Hancock ML, Ridriguez D, Dodson ST, et al. The selective androgen receptor modulator GTx-024 (enobosarm) improves lean body mass and physical function in health elderly men and postmenopausal women: results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled phase II trial. J Cachex Sarcopenia Muscle. 2011;2:153–61.CrossRef
Vaughan VC, Martin P, Lewandowski PA. Cancer cachexia: impact, mechanisms and emerging treatments. J Cachex Sarcopenia Muscle. 2013;4:95–109.CrossRef
Vellas B, Balardy L, Gillette-Guyonnet S, Abellan van Kan G, Ghisolfi-Marque A, et al. Looking for frailty in community-dwelling older persons: the Gérontopôle Frailty Screening Tool. J Nutr health Aging. 2013;17:629–31.PubMedCrossRef
Vellas B, Cestac P, Morley JE. Implementing frailty into clinical practice: we cannot wait. J Nutr Health Aging. 2012;16:599–600.PubMedCrossRef