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Frailty and the risk of infection-related hospitalizations in older age: Differences by sex

      Highlights

      • Frailty is associated with infection-related hospitalization, especially in men.
      • Frail women who had experienced only one or no pregnancy had a higher risk of infection-related hospitalization.
      • Age at menopause did not modify the relationship between frailty and infection-related hospitalization.
      • Sex-/gender-specific approaches may help to stratify the risk of acute diseases.

      Abstract

      Objectives

      To investigate the extent to which frailty is associated with infection-related hospitalizations in older men and women, and to explore whether, among women, previous exposure to endogenous estrogens in terms of age at menopause and number of pregnancies modify such a relationship.

      Study design

      The sample comprised 2784 participants in the Progetto Veneto Anziani aged ≥65 years. At baseline and after 4.4 years, frailty was identified according to the presence of three or more of the following: weakness, exhaustion, weight loss, low physical activity, and low walking speed. A passive follow-up on infection-related hospitalizations and mortality was performed for 10 years of observation through linkage with regional registers.

      Main outcome measures

      The association between frailty and infection-related hospitalizations was assessed through mixed-effects Cox regressions.

      Results

      Frailty was significantly associated with a 78 % higher risk of infection-related hospitalization, with stronger results in men (hazard ratio = 2.32, 95 % confidence interval 1.63–3.30) than in women (hazard ratio = 1.54, 95 % confidence interval 1.18–2.02). Focusing on women, we found a possible modifying effect for the number of pregnancies but not menopausal age. Women who had experienced one or no pregnancy demonstrated a higher hazard of infection-related hospitalization as a function of frailty (hazard ratio = 3.00, 95 % confidence interval 1.58–5.71) than women who had experienced two or more pregnancies (hazard ratio = 1.68, 95 % confidence interval 1.18–2.39).

      Conclusion

      Frailty in older age increases the risk of infection-related hospitalizations, especially in men. The “immunologic advantage” of the female sex in younger age seems to persist also after menopause as a function of the number of pregnancies a woman has experienced.

      Keywords

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