Explaining the association between frailty and mortality in older adults: The mediating role of lifestyle, social, psychological, cognitive, and physical factors

Sascha de Breij, Judith J. M. Rijnhart, Noah A. Schuster, M. Liset Rietman, Mike J. L. Peters, Emiel O. Hoogendijk

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Frailty is associated with a higher risk of mortality, but not much is known about underlying pathways of the frailty-mortality association. In this study, we explore a wide range of possible mediators of the relation between frailty and mortality. Data were used from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA). We included 1477 older adults aged 65 years and over who participated in the study in 2008–2009 and linked their data to register data on mortality up to 2015. We examined a range of lifestyle, social, psychological, cognitive, and physical factors as potential mediators. All analyses were stratified by sex. We used causal mediation analyses to estimate the indirect effects in single-mediator analyses. Statistically significant mediators were then included in multiple-mediator analyses to examine their combined effect. The results showed that older men (OR = 2.79, 95% CI = 1.23;6.34) and women (OR = 2.31, 95% CI = 1.24;4.30) with frailty had higher odds of being deceased 6 years later compared to those without frailty. In men, polypharmacy (indirect effect OR = 1.21, 95% CI = 1.03;1.50) was a statistically significant mediator in this association. In women, polypharmacy, self-rated health, and multimorbidity were statistically significant mediators in the single-mediator models, but only the indirect effect of polypharmacy remained in the multiple-mediator model (OR = 1.16, 95% CI = 1.03;1.38). In conclusion, of many factors that were considered, we identified polypharmacy as explanatory factor of the association between frailty and mortality in older men and women. This finding has important clinical implications, as it suggests that targeting polypharmacy in frail older adults could reduce their risk of mortality.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101589
JournalPreventive medicine reports
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Epidemiology
  • Frailty phenotype
  • Mediation analysis
  • Survival

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