Physician anesthesiologist at Stanford at Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group
Richard Novak, MD is a Stanford physician board certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine.Dr. Novak is an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University, the Medical Director at Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California, and a member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in Palo Alto, California.

Is your grandfather too frail for surgery? There are iPad apps to help you answer the question regarding frailty and anesthesia.

Webster’s Dictionary defines frailty as “the condition of being weak and delicate.” Frailty is also a medical term with an accepted definition of “a multisystem loss of physiologic reserve that makes a person more vulnerable to disability during and after stress.”1


The majority of frail patients are elderly. My training was in both internal medicine and anesthesiology, and the intersection of these two fields is geriatric anesthesia. Metrics of frailty exist, and the evaluation of a patient’s frailty index will become an important part of geriatric anesthesia care.

The geriatric population is increasing in size, and the number of elderly patients undergoing surgery is increasing as well. More than half of all operations in the United States are performed on patients of ages ≥65 years, and this proportion will continue to increase.2

In the past a physician’s assessment of a patient’s frailty was an “eyeball” judgment, dependent on how robust versus how frail a patient looked, and dependent on an interpretation of the patient’s active medical problems. Medical researchers began to seek a quantitative metric for frailty, and they proposed frailty evaluation tools.

Dr. Linda Fried developed one of the first frailty indexes in 2001. She studied 5317 men and women 65 years of age or older, and tabulated their answers to questions regarding these five criteria of the Fried Frailty Index: 1,3

  1. Unintentional weight loss. The patient is asked the question, “In the last year, have you lost more than 10 lb unintentionally (i.e., not as a result of dieting or exercise)?” Patients answering “Yes” are categorized as frail by the weight loss criterion.
  2. The patient is read the following two statements: (1) I felt that everything I did was an effort; (2) I could not get going. The question is asked, “How often in the last week did you feel this way?” The patient’s response is rated as follows: 0 = rarely or none of the time (<1 day); 1 = some or little of the time (1 to 2 days); 2 = a moderate amount of the time (3 to 4 days); or 3 = most of the time.
  3. Muscle weakness. The patient is asked about weekly physical activity. Patients with low physical activity are categorized as frail by the physical activity criterion.
  4. Slowness while walking. The patient is asked to walk a short distance and timed. Patients who are slow walkers are categorized as frail by the walk time criterion.
  5. Grip strength. The patient’s grip strength is measured. Patients with decreased grip strength are categorized as frail by the grip strength criterion.

Frailty was defined as a clinical syndrome in which three or more of these five criteria were present. The overall prevalence of frailty in this age>65 patient population was 6.9%. The frailty phenotype was predictive of falls, worsening mobility or disability.

Other researchers, using a variety of frailty scales, have found that increasing frailty correlates with poorer outcomes after surgery. Korean researchers enrolled 275 consecutive elderly patients (aged ≥65 years) who were undergoing intermediate-risk or high-risk elective operations.4 A comprehensive geriatric assessment (CGA) was performed before surgery. The CGA included 6 areas: the number of medical problems, the number of medications taken, physical function, psychological status, nutrition, and risk of postoperative delirium. This CGA frailty score predicted all-cause mortality rates after surgery.

McMaster University professors authored the Fit-Frailty App (available at Apple or Google App Store), a smartphone/iPad app based on the 30-item Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study Frailty Index.5 It takes only minutes to answer the questions on the app, and the app generates a frailty score, which ranges from 0 to 1.0.

The Edmonton Frail Scale (available at Apple or Google App Store) is a 9-criteria iPad app survey which quantifies a frailty score from 0-17. It’s easy to use, and takes about 2–3 minutes to complete.


In the future you’ll see patients filling out frailty apps such as these on iPads in the future, with anesthesiologists and other doctors using the frailty score as part of the pre-surgery evaluation. You can also expect research on whether intervention into or modification of these frailty criteria prior to surgery results in lower postoperative complication rates.

Fire up your iPads, download these frailty apps, and see how fit or frail your grandfather is right now.


  1. Sieber F, Pauldine R, Geriatric Anesthesia, Miller’s Anesthesia, Chapter 80, 5th edition, 2407-2422.
  2. Etzioni  DA, et al. The aging population and its impact on the surgery workforce. Ann Surg. 2003;238(2):170-177.
  3. Fried LP et al. Frailty in Older Adults: Evidence for a Phenotype, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 56, Issue 3, 1 March 2001, Pages M146–M157.
  4. Kim S-W et al, Multidimensional Frailty Score for the Prediction of Postoperative Mortality Risk, JAMA Surg. 2014;149(7):633-640.
  5. Kennedy CC et al, A Frailty Index predicts 10-year fracture risk in adults age 25 years and older: results from the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study (CaMos) Osteoporosis International, December 2014, Volume 25, Issue 12, pp 2825-2832.





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