Frailty is a challenging expression of ageing and an important public health priority. It is associated with adverse health outcomes including functional decline, hospitalisations, and death. Frailty has been found to occur more frequently in Indigenous populations, with a recently published systematic scoping review led by Ebony and her team, finding this population to have a higher prevalence of frailty and earlier onset of frailty when compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts.

However, no studies have explored Indigenous perceptions of frailty in Australia and no culturally specific frailty screening assessments have been developed. This is important because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perceptions, experiences of, and priorities in frailty are likely to differ from mainstream ageing/healthcare frameworks. The paucity of research from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective has significant implications for program and policy design to prevent and manage frailty in Indigenous Australians to support health and wellbeing.   

Institute member, Ebony Lewis, is a lecturer in public health and co-lead of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research theme at UNSW School of Population Health. Ebony is currently leading a research project and has conducted interviews and yarning circles facilitated by Aboriginal researchers to understand the experiences, attitudes, and perceptions that older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults in Sydney hold about frailty and any needs and suggestions around frailty and ageing to support health and wellbeing as people age. 

“This study provides us with the first understandings of older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults views of frailty in NSW and is a first step in addressing the significant gaps in research knowledge from an Indigenous perspective”.

“By gaining an understanding of the conceptualisation and approach to frailty in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, this will support future developments of culturally appropriate approaches to assess frailty”. The learnings of this project could also inform future programs developed in close partnership with Aboriginal communities in NSW aimed at the prevention and management of frailty in this population.

Other team members involved in the study include Aboriginal researchers (Leanne Howard, Adam Howie, Dr Adrienne Withall), and non-Aboriginal researchers (A/Prof Ruth Peters, Prof Kenneth Rockwood, Dr Gail Kenning, A/Prof Magnolia Cardona, Dr Kylie Radford) with expertise in ageing, Indigenous health, and psychology and local Aboriginal Elder (Robert Carroll)