Background: Frailty is the loss of ability to withstand a physiological stressor and is associated with multiple adverse outcomes in older people. Trials to prevent or ameliorate frailty are in their infancy. A range of different outcome measures have been proposed, but current measures require either large sample sizes, long follow-up, or do not directly measure the construct of frailty.
Methods: We propose a composite outcome for frailty prevention trials, comprising progression to the frail state, death, or being too unwell to continue in a trial. To determine likely event rates, we used data from the English Longitudinal Study for Ageing, collected 4 years apart. We calculated transition rates between non-frail, prefrail, frail or loss to follow up due to death or illness. We used Markov state transition models to interpolate one- and two-year transition rates and performed sample size calculations for a range of differences in transition rates using simple and composite outcomes.
Results: The frailty category was calculable for 4650 individuals at baseline (2226 non-frail, 1907 prefrail, 517 frail); at follow up, 1282 were non-frail, 1108 were prefrail, 318 were frail and 1936 had dropped out or were unable to complete all tests for frailty. Transition probabilities for those prefrail at baseline, measured at wave 4 were respectively 0.176, 0.286, 0.096 and 0.442 to non-frail, prefrail, frail and dead/dropped out. Interpolated transition probabilities were 0.159, 0.494, 0.113 and 0.234 at two years, and 0.108, 0.688, 0.087 and 0.117 at one year. Required sample sizes for a two-year outcome in a two-arm trial were between 1040 and 7242 for transition from prefrailty to frailty alone, 246 to 1630 for transition to the composite measure, and 76 to 354 using the composite measure with an ordinal logistic regression approach.
Conclusion: Use of a composite outcome for frailty trials offers reduced sample sizes and could ameliorate the effect of high loss to follow up inherent in such trials due to death and illness.