Background Frailty is a biological syndrome arising from cumulative declines across multiple physiologic systems. Although recent reports have described elevated frailty levels in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) with minimal to moderate disability, very little is known about frailty in individuals with severe disability. The objective of the current investigation was to evaluate frailty through the deficit accumulation model and to explore the relationship of frailty with MS clinical subtypes, disease duration and fall-history in wheelchair users living with MS. Materials and methods Standard validated procedures were used to calculate a frailty index in 45 wheelchair and scooter users living with MS (median age = 60.0[16.0] years, 82.2% female, patient determined disease steps score = 7.0). Information on demographics, MS clinical subtypes, disease duration, and six-month fall-history were collected as part of a standardized medical survey. Results The mean frailty index score was 0.54 (standard deviation = 0.13). Overall, 91.1% and 8.9% of participants met objective diagnostic criteria for severe and moderate frailty, respectively. A one-way ANOVA revealed no significant differences (F = 0.054, p = 0.948) in the frailty index among participants with relapsing-remitting MS, primary progressive, and secondary progressive MS. No relationship between frailty and disease duration (r = -0.058, p = 0.706) was found. A univariable negative binomial regression analysis revealed a significant association between frailty index scores and the number of falls experienced in the previous six months (IRR = 1.75, 95% CI [1.06-2.91], p = 0.030). Conclusion The current study suggests that individuals with MS with advanced disability also live with coexisting frailty and that the frailty index may be a valuable tool in evaluating fall-risk in wheelchair users living with MS. The significant overlap observed between severe disability and severe frailty highlights the emerging need to untangle this bi-directional relationship to identify appropriate therapeutic pathways in the MS population living with advanced disability.
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