Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

What is aging in place? Former B.C. nurse, physician pens book to help people age at home

"Getting old is inevitable, but becoming frail is not," says Dr. Karen Humphreys.

A former B.C. nurse and physician has written a book to help people navigate aging in place. 

Dr. Karen Humphreys, a clinical instructor at UBC’s faculty of medicine, said it took her just 11 days to write the Mission of Maya and Methuselah.

"I've shifted away from educating med students and residents, and I just want to help educate the general population, because I think it's very empowering and they can control what happens,” she says.

The Victoria resident spent decades in hospitals and drew inspiration for the book from her experiences. 

“What I found in the last probably 10 years, and especially working in smaller hospitals, that the people that kept presenting were really quite frail and even though we identified that they were frail, and we had sort of an interim plan in place for them to go home, they came back more frail, and more frail,” she explains. “And then they eventually passed on.”

She hopes her book educates the public that frailty doesn’t have to happen. 

“Getting old is inevitable, but becoming frail is not,” she says.

The book guides readers through a practical and well-researched program that will prepare them for their final 15 to 20 years of life. 

Below is an edited version of Glacier Media's interview with Humphreys.

What is aging in place? 

Everyone wants to age in place and that is sort of the goal. Aging in place means staying in your home for as long as you are able.

Is long-term care or aging at home better?

As long as you can stay in your own home, great. Your own home is usually paid for. Now, that being said, I'm not anti-long-term care, because my dad is in assisted living, and he is the social butterfly, and it has done him so well. And so it's not that one is better. I just think that, financially, long-term care is more expensive than what people anticipate. And certainly, the social aspect of assisted living or long-term care is beneficial. But if you ask a senior, they want to stay in their own home until the very end. 

Who should read this book? 

The book is for really, anyone over the age of 40 and that usually encompasses either children or grandchildren of aging people. Or if you're starting to think about your future, you're getting near the end of your work life, maybe you're thinking about, ‘What's my life gonna look like as we all get older in this population?' And so it can be for family members, or individuals themselves. It has guidelines on sort of how to look after yourself, or how do you encourage an aging loved one, and I reference my parents in the book as well, because, you know, it's a firsthand experience that I've lived as well, and everyone's going through this. We're all getting older.

What were you seeing while working at hospitals? 

Right now, we don't have enough care homes in place and we're seeing that because about 15 per cent of hospital patients they're past their acute stage, but they can't go anywhere, because there's nowhere to go. So it's affecting emergency rooms, surgeries, and our day-to-day hospital care has been affected by this for probably the last 10 years, and it's just going to get worse. So if we can be fit, stay out of the hospital, and not need to go to a care home, it'll help with health care across the board. And I think that from a happiness perspective, anything that you can control, you're probably going to be happier doing so.

What is the most important factor to age in place?

Functional fitness: your brain and body have to work. As I grew up, it was always about cardio, cardio, cardio, do cardio and maybe a little bit of weights. But actually, resistance training and balance exercises and brain exercises are way more important as we age. You still have to do some cardio, because you don't get blood flow to your brain unless you do a little pumping of the heart, whether that be dancing or walking or on a treadmill or whatever you like to do. I think there's been sort of a shift towards functionality. We know that about 40 per cent of some of the dementia cases can be averted with lifestyle changes, starting in our 50s or 60s. 

Can anyone do fitness? 

Fitness is really something that any of us can change. Even if someone is in a wheelchair, you can still keep your upper body fit. There's lots of chair yoga and chair exercises and I talk about even bed exercises.

What else is important for aging in place? 

We find that for people who don't have family, we call them kinless seniors. There is a big burden on on health-care systems to look after these people because they don't have anyone to help them out. Then finances... there are lots of websites that talk about the price of long-term care in B.C., and so it is wage tested, so it is based on your basic income, but some of the long-term care, the private ones in B.C. is, I've seen $10,000 to $15,000 a month for long-term care in a private place. If you want to stay in your own home and have private care of nurses, aids or homemakers, for 24 hours a day, care can cost up to about $25,000 a month. So it's costly to try and stay in your own home.

The book is available for purchase on Amazon, Friesen Press and in Victoria at Russell Books.