Critical reflections on the blind sides of frailty in later life

Liesbeth De Donder*, A-. S. Smetcoren, J. M. G. A. Schols, Anne van der Vorst, E. Dierckx, D. Lambotte, B. Fret, D. Duppen, M. Kardol, D. Verte, L. Hoeyberghs, N. De Witte, E. De Roeck, S. Engelborghs, P. P. Dedeyn, M. C. J. Van der Elst, J. De Lepeleire, B. Schoenmakers, G. A. R. Zijlstra, G. I. J. M. KempenD-SCOPE Consortium

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Since the 1970's, frailty emerged as a major theme and has become one of the most researched topics in aging studies. However, throughout the years, the concept 'frailty' became susceptible to different interpretations and has been approached by different synonyms, which resulted in a confusing picture. Based on a narrative literature review, this theoretical paper not only attempts to describe these different views on frailty, but by criticizing the dominance of some of these views, it also aspires to move the research and policy agenda on frailty forward. This paper is part of the D-SCOPE project in Belgium, and critically reflects on the blind sides of the biomedical domination of frailty and discusses three main themes: 1) frailty as a multidimensional and multilevel concept; 2) positive perspectives on frailty in later life; and 3) the suggestion of moving from a merely deficit-based frailty approach towards the concept of frailty-balance. At the theoretical level, conceptualizing frailty is not simply an exercise in semantics, but altering the theoretical definition of frailty can have wide-ranging implications, not only for the way frailty prevalence is measured and handled, but also for public or personal opinions on frailty in older people, for care and support practices, and for the scope of legislation. Therefore, the final section of the paper presents three building blocks for future research and policy-making: 1) adopting a multidimensional, multilevel, dynamic and positive view on frailty; 2) moving from dependency to interdependency; and 3) giving voice to (the resilience of) frail older people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-73
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Aging Studies
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Frailty
  • Older people
  • Theory
  • Perceptions of aging
  • CARE
  • RISK
  • HOME
  • AGE

Cite this