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Sisters sharing a long life together

Kay Holstein celebrates her 105th birthday.  - Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS
Kay Holstein celebrates her 105th birthday.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS

Kay Holstein and her sister Elizabeth are good examples of how more people are living to 100.

Kay celebrated her 105th birthday on Feb. 15 at Maple Ridge Seniors Village. She lives there with her sister, who has also been her best friend, and is 98 years old.

They have each other, and it has made a difference.

“She was a good sister. We were very close, her and I. We did everything together – shopped together, walked together … we were always together.”

Elizabeth, or Betty, has a daughter, Linda McGowan, who remembers her aunt and her mom as inseparable during their 70s and 80s.

Betty’s husband passed away in 1961, and the two sisters moved in together in Vancouver. They had two brothers and two sisters who passed away in their 70s or 80s.

Betty and Kay moved to Maple Ridge 20 years ago, had a place on 232nd Street, and a busy life together.

“They were out all the time, shopping and visiting friends,” she remembers. “They were always going somewhere and doing something.”

It may not be scientific, but anecdotally, she sees how this close relationship has helped her mother and aunt.

“They were old, but they were always together, and they weren’t lonely.”

Research into centenarians has been underway in Europe, Asia and North American.

Independence into the 90s is a common part of the profile.

Live Better America goes so far as to call isolation a “life ender,” and says centenarians are often described as gregarious and funny, rarely “grumpy loners.”

That fits. The people who work at the Maple Ridge Seniors Village remark on Kay’s sweet disposition, and a sense of humor that often comes out unexpectedly.

Kay looks much younger than her years, and simple genetics are a large part of the profile of a centenarian. Most have family members who have been long lived. They seem to be genetically resistant to cancer and heart disease.

Capably coping with stress is also a trademark of centenarians. Kay was a live-in housekeeper for a disabled man, and never married.

“She never married, never had kids – never had stress in her life,” remarked McGowan.

Research shows that people who live to be 100 know how to manage stress, and don’t dwell on problems.

Kay remembers working as a waitress, but her memories of her early days seem to be fading. She is also very hard of hearing, but manages with a hearing aid.

She believes her longevity is the result of clean living.

“I’ve lived a good life – no drinking, and never partied,” said Kay.

She’s a small woman. Centenarians have more vegetables in their diet, not smoking and not being obese – particularly in males. Hundred-year-old overweight men are rare.

While more people are living to see the age of 100, people to reach the milestone of 105 are even more rare.

According to the 2011 census, there were almost 6,000 Canadians aged 100 or older. There were 4,870 women, and 955 men.  British Columbia had 875 centenarians – third most among the provinces.

But 40 per cent of those centenarians were exactly 100, and only six per cent of that group was 105 or older.

A Stats Canada population projection sees the number of Centenarians continuing to rise. By 2031 it could reach more than 17,000, and by 2061 close to 80,000.

For Kay, despite her remarkable birthday, life goes on.

“It’s like any other day, only I’m a year older,” she said.

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