Myth Busts

Myth Bust Series

2023 - n° 2

Many people worry about ageing because they associate it with increasing frailty. Let us examine this notion from the perspective of research.

Frailty refers to a state of vulnerability often associated with ageing or chronic illness. Becoming frail means having fewer resources to draw upon – in other words, having less physiological strength, declining cognitive function and a reduced ability to bounce back from illness or injury.

This state of increased vulnerability can further affect the physical, mental and social well-being of the person affected, leading to an increased risk of hospitalisation, poor surgical outcomes and earlier death in older adults.

Myth: "To age means to become more and more frail. One simply has to accept this."
Fact: Frailty can be prevented and treated.

The median age in the European Union as last recorded by Eurostat in 2022 was 44.4 years. This means that half of the population living in the EU has reached at least their mid-forties.

Although people are living longer lives all around Europe, many are at risk of developing long-standing illness, multiple health conditions or mobility problems in their later years. Unfortunately, data show that this trend has been increasing over the past two decades.

However, growing old does not necessarily have to also mean becoming more and more frail. Not all older people are frail and, even more importantly, frailty is not irreversible. It can be prevented and treated to enable a healthier life.

More and more evidence finds that lifestyle modifications can play a significant role in managing frailty, for example: regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and proper medical care as well as age-friendly environments.

More specifically, one study from Japan found that pre-frail older women aged 70 to 84 living in community dwellings can recover locomotor functions such as handgrip strength, balance and walking speed. This can be achieved via programmes that target nutrition and physical activity in old age [1].

Another study found that older adults with low care needs, typically aged 65 to 85, can delay the onset of frailty by using community-based day services (such as recreational activities and functional training) or home-based personal assistance services (like housekeeping) [2]. Together, both studies show the value of adult day services and healthy ageing habits in preventing frailty.

People have different capacities during the life course. Developing right care environments can build on these capacities. This way, ageing can be an opportunity for both individuals and policymakers to sustain physical, mental and social wellbeing in older age.

Being ready to cope with demographic challenges is the responsibility of every one of us. The FutuRes Project examines how policymakers can ensure that health and social care is geared to the needs of older persons in a coordinated and meaningful way.

Andreea Piriu & Aleksandra Torbica, Bocconi University


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[1] Find the Japanese study on improving the physical abilities of older women here

[2] Find the study about delaying the onset of frailty here

Andreea Piriu; Aleksandra Torbica;
Keywords: ageing, frailty, chronic illness
2023 - n° 1

When asked to point at someone who is ageing, many people will intuitively look around for a person over 60. Yet of course, everyone is ageing.

We often think of different generations almost as different species. This narrative is amplified by media who popularise ever-present labels, like “boomers”, generations X, Y, Z, and so on. This view amplifies differences between younger and older people, when of course individuals differ, for example, in their distinct needs, priorities and political preferences. This “generational view” also exacerbates the idea that older and younger people are in inherent conflict and cannot understand each other.

Myth: “Ageing? Only older people need to think about that!”
Fact: We all age and ageing affects all of us.

To talk about ageing, demographers use the expression “life course perspective” [1]. The life course perspective looks at younger and older people as the same people, only at different stages of their lives, and with their different needs, priorities, and capabilities which change and develop over time. Rather than “us vs them” generations, it is more useful to think of “us at different moments in our lives”. The World Health Organization notes: “Adopting a life-course approach involves taking action early [and] appropriately during life’s transitions.” [2]

The life course perspective still recognises that access to resources varies throughout people’s lives. Young people may not have much money nor assets, whereas middle-aged people may have more money and assets, but lack time, and those at pension-age might have more time and assets, but their health and finances may be worse. As we all age, we also all move between these different stages.

The main challenge for policy is not how to support one age group at the expense of another, but rather how to make key resources – time, money and assets – more equitably distributed across the life course. This is a challenge both for state policies and for the private sector, and may require re-thinking how credit and insurance currently work in our societies, among other aspects. Regardless, levelling the field requires thinking in the long-term - and recognising that the policies which impact us today also have impacts on how we live tomorrow.

Jakub Bijak, University of Southampton

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[1] See the “Handbook on Demographic Change and the Lifecourse” for the newest scientific perspectives on Ageing:

[2] The WHO’s Life Course approach:


Jakub Bijak
Keywords: ageing;