Objective: this study has aimed to identify, from a systematic review of literature, precedents of frailty in the elderly. Methods: to achieve that, 32 studies have been analyzed, which have comprehended two chapters of books and a master’s dissertation (first national publications about the theme) and 29 scientific articles published between 2000 and 2009. The search for the articles has been undertaken through the descriptor frail elderly, in the database Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO), Latin-American and Caribbean Literature in Health Sciences (LACLHS) and International Literature in Health Sciences (MEDLINE). Results: the researched literature has identified that the precedents of frailty comprehend: advanced age, female sex, low income and low schooling, deficit of social support, negative auto-perception of health, decline in multiple organic systems, co morbidities, depression, low level of physical activity, cognitive deficit, anorexia, obesity, atherosclerosis, fall, and smoking. Conclusion: the results of the study indicate that frailty in the elderly is multi-determined, being involved in its occurrence, events experienced by the individual in all the course of life, which are affected by biological, psychological and social modifiers. Thus, it can be understood that frailty does not show itself in a uniform way in all the individuals.