Socio-economic factors associated with sheep and mixed cattle and sheep farming may predispose farmers in these sectors to frailty to a greater extent than other enyerprise types, such as dairying or beef only, the results of a survey involving 58 elderly farmers in the west has found.

While only two participants were found to have been frail, 27 of the respondents (47% of those surveyed) were found to be “pre-frail”.

Higher rates of pre-frailty were reported by sheep and mixed farmers than by dairy farmers.

Some of the reasons that the topic was chosen include farmers being at higher risk of experiencing a heart attack, as well as farmers making “risky” lifestyle choices and having rates of arthritis relative to the general population.

More research needed

Physiotherapist Catherine Merrick, who was involved in the study, pointed out that no other published academic study has addressed frailty levels among farmers as a specific group.

The researchers said that more research in the area was needed to draw “meaningful clinical implications” on farmer frailty and its implications for the provision of healthcare services.

“The agricultural industry in Ireland is recognised as having an ageing workforce.

"We know that there is an ageing population worldwide and, subsequently, increased levels of frailty worldwide,” Merrick told the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists conference on Friday.

“We also know that this means that healthcare services need to evolve and change accordingly and part of doing this is being able to recognise groups who are at high risk of frailty, as well as groups which are at lower risks of frailty.

“It would be recommended that further research in the area is conducted on a larger scale,” Merrick said.