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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

What do we mean by ‘frailty’?

In another of his occasional articles as a trustee of Caraway in Southampton, Terry Martin thinks about the concept of frailty.


‘It is a familiar experience that as we get older, we become frailer. We are more likely to suffer severer consequences from what previously might have been uneventful, such as a fall.

On their website AgeUK have a somewhat curious definition of frailty:

“Frailty is a term that’s used a lot, but is often misunderstood. When used properly, it refers to a person’s mental and physical resilience, or their ability to bounce back and recover from events like illness and injury.” (1)

Resilience is an important quality, but not often linked to frailty. However, the article does go on to offer some useful practical advice:

“Someone living with frailty may need to adapt how they live their life, and find new ways to manage day to day tasks. This can be true for their family too.”

“Frailty can also profoundly challenge someone's sense of self and change how they are perceived and treated by others, including healthcare professionals.”

Dr Ian Donald, a healthcare professional, helpfully draws attention to the fact that “‘frail’ has the same linguistic root as ‘fragile’, derived from the Latin fragilis, meaning ‘easily broken.’” (2)

On parcels we sometimes see labels like this, asking us to handle with care. Sometimes, as human beings, we can feel fragile and that we might be easily broken. The issue, therefore, arises how we can best be alongside those who feel frail and possibly fragile. How can we handle them with care?

Although frailty and fragility mainly concern physical health, it is worth also considering the psychological and spiritual dimensions. In the psychological or mental dimension, frailty and fragility manifest themselves in conditions like dementia.

But what does it mean to be spiritually frail or spiritually fragile? These states are not necessarily correlated with age. Indeed, an older person in the Third or Fourth Age might be less spiritually frail or spiritually fragile than someone much younger, and be well placed to be offering help. As Dr Ian Donald also says, “the notion of ‘frailty’ – a time defined by vulnerability and dependency.”

Vulnerability and dependency are no respecters of age and are, in a sense, intrinsic to the human condition. We are these days much more aware of the fragility of the natural environment and our shared vulnerability of threats to its sustainability.

Christians put their trust in Jesus who, although God, made himself totally vulnerable in his terrible death upon the cross. He was also totally dependent upon his Father to raise him to new life.’


  1. ‘Understanding frailty’,

  2. Dr Ian Donald, With a Light Touch: A guide to healthcare in frailty (Onwards and Upwards, 2021).

Contact Terry Martin by email

Caraway is committed to spiritually resourcing the older person. Take a look at their website Caraway.




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