Learning how to AVOID frailty

Nearly three years ago, Betty and Frank McKenney, at ages 89 and 90 respectively, attended a family reunion in Thunder Bay. Unfortunately, this one did not go so well. Betty slipped and fell while going down the patio stairs.

“I was lying on the ground in pain. I could move my arms, head and shoulder, but I could not move my right knee. So I knew something was broken” says Betty. She broke her femur — the long bone that runs from the knee to the hip joint. It is considered to be a bad one to break, and is painful and slow to heal. After the operation, Betty turned her focus to getting better.

“I asked the doctor how long it takes to recover. He said, well when you’re 25, 8-12 months. If you’re over 65, at least a year. So I said, what about over 85? And he looked at me and finally said, a lot longer. But we don’t usually tell people that, because they usually succumb. And I said, well I don’t do succumbing, so give me an idea how long it’s going to be.”

She was finally told to expect 18-24 months before being at all comfortable walking again. And she had a suspicion that nobody really believed she would make it. Nobody, that is, but Frank. “We have had a very active life,” says Frank. “She is in good shape, always exercises, and I knew she wasn’t going to take well to sitting around. I was sure she’d get back.” 18 months later, Betty was walking and playing shuffleboard. She had an injury that doctors say often kills older adults living with frailty, but Betty had other plans.

Dr. John Muscedere loves Betty and Frank’s story. Muscedere is the Scientific Director of the Canadian Frailty Network (CFN), which works to improve care for older adults living with frailty. He says one of the main reasons Betty was able to recover is that she was not frail.

“Many people do not realize that frailty is an actual medical condition,” says Dr. Muscedere. “It can often be avoided or mitigated with the AVOID frailty approach. AVOID is an acronym to help people remember – Activity to keep muscles strong, keeping Vaccinations up to date. Optimize Medications annually with a review by your healthcare provider. Interact socially with friends and family, and maintain proper Diet and nutrition. I’m betting Betty and Frank do all these things.”

And that is exactly the case. Betty and Frank hadn’t heard of CFN until recently, but they have been living the AVOID Frailty lifestyle for years. “I know perfectly well that my active lifestyle is why I was able to recover. We climbed a mountain in Australia just four years ago.” Frank added that all seniors aren’t going to climb mountains, but that isn’t the point. “If you follow the advice of the CFN to the best of your ability, you stand a good chance of, as Betty would say, ‘not doing frail’.”

The Canadian Frailty Network is a Sponsor of Research Canada’s Your Candidates, Your Health 2021 Federal Election Campaign. To learn more, visit yourcandidatesyourhealth.ca.