Evidence from two cohorts for the frailty syndrome as an emergent state of parallel dysregulation in multiple physiological systems

Ahmed Ghachem, Linda P. Fried, Véronique Legault, Karen Bandeen-Roche, Nancy Presse, Pierrette Gaudreau, Alan A. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Frailty is a clinical syndrome often present in older adults and characterized by a heightened vulnerability to stressors. The biological antecedents and etiology of frailty are unclear despite decades of research: frailty is associated with dysregulation in a wide range of physiological systems, but no specific cause has been identified. Here, we test predictions stemming from the hypothesis that there is no specific cause: that frailty is an emergent property arising from the complex systems dynamics of the broad loss of organismal homeostasis. Specifically, we use dysregulation of six physiological systems using the Mahalanobis distance approach in two cohorts of older adults to test the breadth, diffuseness, and nonlinearity of associations between frailty and system-specific dysregulation. We find clear support for the breadth of associations between frailty and physiological dysregulation: positive associations of all systems with frailty in at least some analyses. We find partial support for diffuseness: the number of systems or total amount of dysregulation is more important than the identity of the systems dysregulated, but results only partially replicate across cohorts. We find partial support for nonlinearity: trends are exponential but not always significantly so, and power is limited for groups with very high levels of dysregulation. Overall, results are consistent with—but not definitive proof of—frailty as an emergent property of complex systems dynamics. Substantial work remains to understand how frailty relates to underlying physiological dynamics across systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-79
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Aging
  • Complexity
  • Homeostasis
  • Phenotypic frailty
  • Physiological dysregulation
  • Resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Evidence from two cohorts for the frailty syndrome as an emergent state of parallel dysregulation in multiple physiological systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this