Background: Frailty can be defined as the presence of multiple, interacting medical and functional problems. Frailty is associated with psychiatric conditions but its relation to psychological well-being is unclear. A “frailty identity crisis” has been proposed as a maladaptive response to the sense of self as health deficits accumulate. We evaluated this so-called identity crisis by investigating associations between well-being, frailty, and mortality in community-dwelling older Canadians.
Methods: In this secondary analysis of the Canadian Study of Health and Aging (N = 5,703; age 70+), frailty was defined by an index of 33 health deficits. Psychological well-being was measured using Ryff's 18-item scale, with six domains (autonomy, personal growth, environmental mastery, positive relations, purpose in life, and self-acceptance). Cognition was measured using the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination. Associations between well-being, frailty, and mortality were measured using linear regression, adjusting for age, sex, education, cognition, and mental health.
Results: For each additional frailty-defining deficit, the psychological well-being score worsened by 0.3 points (0.29, 95% CI: 0.22–0.36, p < 0.001), independent of age, sex, education, cognition, and mental health. Among the six domains of well-being, only “purpose in life” and “autonomy” were not associated with frailty (all others, p < 0.001). Worse psychological well-being was associated with five-year mortality independent of age, sex, education, frailty, and mental health; this association was not statistically significant when adjusting for baseline cognition.
Conclusions: Frailty was associated with low levels of well-being. Psychological well-being impaired by a frailty identity crisis may play an important role in defining subjective health in older adults.