Frank and Betty McKenney — AVOIDING Frailty

June 10, 2020

Nearly two years ago, in July 2018, Betty and Frank McKenney attended a family reunion in Thunder Bay. Betty and Frank are big believers in family, and they try to do one of these every year. At ages 89 and 90 respectively, Betty and Frank bring knowledge and family history to the reunions. This one, though, did not go so well. Betty slipped and fell while going down the patio stairs. Having been a registered nurse, she decided to do an assessment before calling an ambulance.

“So there I was, lying in all this pain on the ground,” says Betty. “I could move my arms, could move my head and shoulder, but I could not move my right knee. So I knew something was broken.”

What she broke was her femur — sometimes called the thighbone. The long one that runs from the knee to the hip joint. It is considered to be a bad one to break as it is the largest bone in the body, painful and slow to heal.

Betty had to wait five days in hospital, unable to move, before her surgery. They put in a long plate, with eight screws. She says it compliments her two artificial knees nicely. Once the operation was done, Betty turned her mind to the question of 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.

Betty recovering at Providence Care.

“We have had a very active life,” says Frank. “She is in good shape, always exercises, and I pretty much knew she wasn’t going to take well to just sitting around. I was sure she’d get back.”

18 months later, Betty was walking and starting to play shuffleboard. She had an injury that doctors say often kills older adults living with frailty, but Betty had other plans.

Frank and Betty enjoying a game of shuffleboard.

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. “And it can often be avoided or at least mitigated by what we call the AVOID frailty approach. AVOID is an acronym to help people remember – Activity and exercise to keep muscles strong, Vaccinate – keep your vaccinations up to date. Optimize Medications annually with your health care provider – have them review the medications you are on, and if they are needed. Interact socially with friends and family, and as we age maintain proper Diet and nutrition by consuming more protein. I’m betting Betty and Frank do all these things.”

And that turns out to be exactly the case. Betty and Frank had never heard of the Canadian Frailty Network until recently, but they have been living the AVOID Frailty lifestyle for years. They eat right, socialize, ensure their vaccinations are updated, check with their doctor to optimize their medications, and above all they exercise regularly.

“I know perfectly well that my active lifestyle is why I was able to recover. We walk all the time. We climbed a mountain in Australia just four years ago. We love shuffleboard. We take care of our bodies, so when I needed it to, my body took care of me.”

Frank is quick to add that all seniors aren’t going to climb mountains, but says that isn’t the point. “If you are lucky enough to have your health, you need to stay active. It is the key to aging well.” 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.”

“There’s two words Betty and I go by all the time, positive and negative. And we don’t do the negative. That’s our way of thinking and we try to do everything positively.”