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Physical training and social support are good natural interventions for elderly frail people

Harold Mandel's picture
An elderly couple dancing

A training program for the reactivation of older and frail people focusing on physical training and social support has achieved incredible success.


It is very sad to see elderly people waste away. A training program has been established by the Medical University of Vienna with a goal of reactivating of elderly frail people which has met with incredible success.

Social support is important for the elderly

It has been determined that non-professional volunteers can effectively help older people improve their physical condition by helping them with physical training and their nutrition. Social support has been found to be an essential element for success in dealing with the elderly.

In Austria, where this study was done, 11 percent of people over 65 years old have been found to be frail and 41 percent are pre-frail. Frailty is a serious geriatric condition which consists of decreased muscle mass and/or muscle power, malnutrition consisting of being undernourished or overeating, and chronic inflammation. Frailty in the elderly is associated with many health problems.

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Preventative programs can prevent malnutrition and frailty in the elderly

Preventative programs which consist of a combination of intervention with social support, nutrition and exercise can prevent older people from becoming malnourished and frail while also lessening isolation and loneliness. This can be particularly important for people who live alone and rarely leave their apartments.

The project "Healthy for life" has been initiated by the Medical University of Vienna along with the relief organization Vienna Hilfswerk and Sportunion Austria. This project has been promoted by the Vienna Science and Technology Fund. Volunteers called "buddies" visited frail or malnourished people who were on average 83 years old in their homes. The skilled buddies helped the frail elderly people with strength training and also discussed vital aspects of nutrition with them. There was a marked improvement in the frailty status and malnutrition risk in these elderly people after twelve weeks.

An active social life and social contacts are important for the elderly

The first author of this study, Eva Luger of the Institute for Social Medicine of the Medical University of Vienna, has said the results of this study demonstrate that healthy nutrition and physical activity in older people are particularly important to help promote health and well-being and maintain autonomy. Social support is an essential prerequisite for achievement of healthy nutrition and physical activity. Having an active social life and social contacts helps the elderly remain autonomous for as long as they possibly can.

This study has been published in the journal JAMDA. It is now recognized as being possible for nonprofessionals to effectively help frail older people living at home. Home-based physical training, nutritional, and social support intervention can meet with great success in this setting. This type of home visit program has the potential to help prevent health risks in the future and can help avoid isolation and loneliness. The team at the Medical University of Vienna has come up with a brilliant plan to naturally help frail elderly people enjoy better health.