Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Memories of Italy

A couple of years ago I went to Italy on a vacation. The country was incredible, steeped in history and beauty. While we saw some very special sites, one of the very interesting things we did, and an experience that stands out for us,  was seeing the beautiful island of Murano near Venice. This very beautiful quaint island is known for one thing - blown glass. Who hasn't heard about Murano Glass? We went to a factory and watched a man create a beautiful piece of art. He was in his 70's and had learned his trade as a young boy. He truly made it look easy but clearly his 'art' was something that took many years to perfect. The show room, was nothing short of amazing, filled with so many different items hand crafted with pride but, the fear of it breaking in transit, deterred us from buying anything substantial. At the time, the person giving the tour told us that there were few factories like it left because of the machine made replicas offered at a much cheaper price coming from other countries.

This weekend there was an article in the paper about this very island and the dying art of making glass. It sounds like the situation has worsened since we were there and frankly it was sad to read. To truly understand the loss, one would have to see the island and fantastic items that are made there. These people are true artisans who pass this gift down through their families, from one generation to the next - yet it is becoming increasingly difficult to make a living at it .

We are now in a world of disposables. A world of  dollar stores, electronics, fast food and a love of 'sales' . Hand made art is rarer and rarer to find and is clearly not appreciated by as many as it should be. The next generation of people in Murano, will not learn this skill and will not want to. And so in a short time, this art will die. I will treasure the few small pieces I bought, just as I treasure my memories of that trip. For those of our readers who are planning a trip to Italy , I encourage you to take a side trip to Murano and bring home an authentic piece of history.

Happy Holidays to all of you. Wishing you all a peaceful and warm holiday season making special memories with family and friends.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Do you have a bucket list?

The older I get, the quicker time seems to pass - and the less adventurous I become. The saying "youth is wasted on the young" rings truer now than it ever did for me. When we are young we don't think of our own mortality and seem to think that the years in our bank of life are endless. I suppose we are more daring, more willing to try things because of that. Most do not have a concept of their 'must dos' before they are too old or sick to do them. So, after reading an article earlier this week about making a bucket list, I began thinking about the whole concept of having a 'things to do before I die' list. Once I got past the idea that it is a tad morbid, I started wondering about why someone would want to make a list like this. Those that talk about this tend to be well past 'youth' and looking towards retirement. Is it a sign of a life unfulfilled? Or a need to feel young and vital? Or a fear of death itself or not living your life to the fullest? Could it be a bit of all of those things and more?

 I wonder if the idea of a 'bucket list' excuses us from living in the present, from enjoying today, because we always assume that 'tomorrow' we can do what we didn't have a chance to do today. But what if there aren't enough tomorrows to do what we want to do? This concept of a bucket list only works if we are fortunate to live a long and healthy life, and in some cases have much expendable income. Lately I have heard so many stories of people who didn't live until retirement or if they did were not healthy enough to enjoy it that it gets you wondering if we aren't going about this wrong.

Rather than a 'bucket list' should we not be thinking about living in the here and now? If life is about the journey and not the destination, shouldn't we be worrying more about our experiences throughout our lives rather than waiting to cram them all into the last few years?  And how many things on a bucket list are more about the people you are with rather than the experience itself? I wonder if we should be encouraging our children to set small goals every year - pick one thing you want to do and work toward achieving it - so that they don't have a mile long list of things they want to do before they die when they may not have the time left to accomplish it. Rather than having a bucket list, maybe the goal should be NOT to have one, not to need one, and not to want one......

Friday, 28 November 2014

One bad egg.....

It never ceases to amaze me how many people have no problem taking advantage of the most vulnerable in our society. Be it children or older people, there is always someone who chooses to take their trust and take advantage or abuse them in return.

 This morning I read yet another article in the paper about a retirement home that despite being denied a license, has refused to close (this home has been profiled several times in the same paper over the past couple of years). It continues to house seniors - likely without families to advocate for them - in poor conditions.

It took a long time, but a couple of years ago, the Ontario government came out with legislation to protect seniors in retirement homes. Until then the industry was self regulating and most operators did their best to offer residents housing with respect, dignity and care. That being said, there are always a few bad eggs that give everyone a bad name and so, the legislation was a welcome relief to all of us who work in the field. It truly is something every province should replicate though few have done so to date.

The Retirement Home Regulatory Authority was created to ensure that the legislation is being followed and clearly they are taking their role very seriously and appreciate the position they have been given to protect the vulnerable senior sector. However, there are still those who don't respect the authority they have been given and simply refuse to comply.

I suppose there is no legislating things like kindness and caring about your fellow human being.

On the one hand, I am bothered by news articles that only point out only the negative about an industry or profession. I suppose that is what sells papers but, it is also a very slanted perspective and doesn't allow for a  'reality check'. I worry that people reading something like what I read, would be worried about moving to a retirement home and not make a decision that would benefit them for fear of something negative happening to them. Truly there are a few bad retirement homes but many, many good ones. However, if the news media didn't publicize things like this, the public would never know what or who to avoid. I suppose the lesson from this particular situation is that we should read the negative so we know the specifics of what or who to avoid but also, keep an open mind and research the other options available.

One bad egg should never spoil it for the rest.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Is 'senior' the right word?

I spoke with someone recently who had issues with the word 'senior' to denote people over 60. The logic is that it is in some way derogatory and that most people in that age bracket and beyond prefer to be called 'elder persons'. I frankly have trouble wrapping my head around that terminology and think that being called an 'elder person' is far more negative (one of the synonyms for 'elder' according to the dictionary is 'ancient'). The term 'senior' denotes more prestige to me. We have Senior Vice-Presidents, Senior Officers, Seniors in High School or College, and Seniors in life. Doesn't senior conjurer up someone who has earned respect and a distinction as someone with experience and expertise? Somehow "Elder' does not give me the same warm fuzzy feeling! Elder maybe too close to 'older' and while some communities have 'Elders' who run them, most do not.

So I went to a thesaurus to see if there could maybe be a better term to describe senior folks - I quite like 'Chief' but I don't know if others would. The interesting thing is not the synonyms but the antonyms (opposites) - 'minor, behind, inferior, junior, unimportant'. Perhaps that says more about the true value of someone with age and experience behind them than anything else. So maybe we should not be so worried about the words we use and focus more on what they mean........

Regardless of how old you are now, one day with any luck, we will all be 'senior' - if you aren't there yet or even if you are, what do you think the best word to describe someone over 60 is?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

About Remembrance Day

November 11. Remembrance Day. As a child, I recall the assemblies we had in school every year to give tribute to those who fought in the first and second world wars but the true meaning of the sacrifices people made was mostly lost on us. It is not something most children in the free world can comprehend. The irony is we could not comprehend it precisely because of those men and women who fought hard so we could live in a world free of oppression.

In my early years as a social worker, I worked with many veterans and came to understand the true meaning of sacrifice. I learned that every veteran remembers his vet ID number as if it is his name. I learned that when you are fighting for your life with others, you understand what a 'brother' truly is. You learn the importance of looking out for each other. You learn true fear. You learn about being brave. You learn not to 'sweat the small stuff'. You learn what is important in life. You learn how horrible war is. You see the worst in people and the best. For those who serve in a theatre of war, you are changed forever.

Today is about so many things. Its about remembering the men and women who fought for this amazing country we live in today. Its about the men and women who are fighting now for other countries to be as blessed as we are. It's about understanding that freedom should not be taken for granted. It's about never forgetting about the people who lost their lives or those who survived who were changed forever by what they saw and experienced. It's about recognizing how fortunate we are. It's about thanking the people now and in the past who keep us safe and value freedom above their own lives.

Lest we forget.

Friday, 7 November 2014

About Mustaches

So it's November. Or actually it might be better stated to call it Movember. I am fascinated how renaming a month for a cause has caught on so well. And how so many people do their part to support it. Much like the pink ribbon is known universally as a breast cancer symbol, a mustache in November seems to now be synonymous with raising awareness of and money for, men's health issues. It's actually quite a brilliant idea. While women are quite open about health and body issues, the opposite seems true of most men. Perhaps the best way to open the conversation, was to create something like this....

For those who might not be in the know, and I would imagine the number would be very low, the idea is that men grow a mustache for the month of November and other 'sponsor' them to do it. I've seen young boys sporting 'stick on ones' and have read some interesting suggestions for women to participate...........

According to the website http://ca.movember.com, it is estimated that in 2014 in excess of 23,000 men will receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer and 4,000 will die of it. Risk increases with age. Younger men are at risk for testicular cancer with approximately 1,000 diagnosis anticipated in 2014.

As with many illnesses, the more awareness we have of our bodies, the earlier we will catch a problem and the better the outcome as a result. It is good to see a growing movement like this, focused on taking the stigma out of talking about a personal health issue. It will hopefully translate into lower mortality rates and early intervention in higher numbers. It's equally encouraging to see the annual  outpouring of support for this cause. The count for registered participants world-wide according to the Movember website noted above is close to 600,000 as of today - total raised is almost $19,000,000!!!

To donate visit http://ca.movember.com/donate

Thursday, 16 October 2014

October - Breast Cancer Awareness Month

How many people do you know who have had breast cancer? Off the top of my head, I can think of 4 in recent years who I have known personally; many others who are friends of friends. And in terms of those who have had other forms of cancer, I can can think of many more. The figures are staggering. It seems that those who 'escape' this dreaded disease as a whole, will be less in number than those who will get it. Thankfully, survival rates are going up with each new discovery and new treatment. But there are still many who fight the battle and do not survive. Statistics indicate that a woman has a 1 in 9 chance of developing breast cancer, if she lives until the age of 90. 25% of all cancers afflicting women are breast cancer and 1 in 30 women will die of it. Men are also able to develop breast cancer but the number of those impacted is far less. 

And then there are the hidden victims; the families of those who get one form or another of this disease. 

I suppose the great efforts to fund raise (the last statistic I read stated that over 25 million dollars this year has already been raised for Breast Cancer Research in Canada) is a testament to how many people have been impacted in some way or another by this disease but it also speaks to the great job being done to increase awareness of it and need to be vigilant in seeking out help if there is any concern. The universal pink ribbon that has become a synonymous with Breast Cancer, serves to remind us of those we have lost, those who have fought and won, and the importance of looking after one's health. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Friends Forever

Yesterday I had the great privilege and honour to be part of a fantastic event. V!VA Pickering (Retirement Community) hosted a contest called "Friends Forever" where people could enter by submitting a story about a valuable friendship. Open to people 65+, participants had 250 words to tell a story which often encompassed a lifetime of memories. I was asked to be one of 3 judges. The hosts narrowed the submissions down to 9 and had us rate each story across several categories. We then came together and figured out a 'winner'. I have to say all of the stories were remarkable and it was not an easy job coming up with a winner.

We heard about friendships that were a lifetime long, some 50 or 60 years some less but as intense. Each story was unique, touching and special in its own way. The person who wrote it, read it and their friend was there to hear them read it. You could see how visibly touched people were - I think we often don't realize the impact we have on others and for some, their friend was their lifesaver.

The stories captured shared travel, moments of great happiness, shared experiences and in some cases, sadness. The common thread in all was not the specifics of what was shared, but what was underlying all of these great relationships - caring, love, compassion, being a confidant and lifeline, knowing each others needs and acting on it. One entrant said their secret was 'don't sweat the small stuff'' and really, when it comes to sustaining a lifelong relationship, that is likely the key.

People come in and out of our lives for many reasons. The ones that stay a lifetime are incredibly special. Finding one that will last a lifetime is truly a gift and all of the people yesterday, recognized the importance of what they had - Forever Friends.

I walked away feeling absolutely wonderful to have been part of such an event, and to being a 'witness' to such amazingly special stories. It really didn't matter who 'won' - they all won - they all had the best gift anyone could ask for - friends who will stand by you through thick and thin. The afternoon was inspiring and uplifting. Thank you V!VA Pickering! And congratulations Dianne and Lynne!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

National Seniors Day - October 1, 2014

Today is National Seniors Day in Canada. An opportunity to recognize and celebrate the contribution of seniors across the country. Events are being held in different areas but a search of the internet, leads one to think that there are many areas where this day is going unnoticed. I suppose there are several 'national days' that the government creates and I wonder if because of that there is a bit of 'collective apathy' around acknowledging such days. Perhaps our lives are too busy to stop and 'celebrate' all days, or we are just unaware of so many. I have not noticed articles or much publicity at all about October 1 and I am 'in the senior business'. If you are not, then you may simply not absorb the information if you see it.

While I think it's great that we have a seniors day and seniors month (as an aside, since both are government created, why are they not in the same month?), unless we publicize it better and encourage all communities to do things to acknowledge seniors, there is little point to declaring a celebratory day. That being said, I wonder why we need a national day at all. Shouldn't we make it a priority to recognize people who have contributed to building the country we are blessed to live in? Shouldn't every day be Seniors' Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day and virtually any day that celebrates the importance of every person who touches our lives?

Friday, 19 September 2014

Have no fear..............

I just read a fascinating article. A woman who turned 90 celebrated her birthday by piloting  a Cessna. Nothing new for her. When she turned 80 she went skydiving and when she turned 85 flew a glider. This is not the first time I've read about a senior doing something daring to celebrate a birthday.  One wonders what it is though, that makes a 90 year old want to fly an air plane or skydive?

When I was young, very young it seems, I had no fear of roller coasters - I looked forward to going to any fair that the scariest rides so I could try them out. But somehow, I grew older and developed a distaste for them. I have decided that its a fear of plummeting to my death - a fear kids evidently don't have - that takes it off my list of favourite things to do....... and I wonder, when I read articles like this, if as I get older, the fear will dissipate and I will be brave enough to try what is now to me, the unthinkable.......... bungee cord jumping!

I wonder too if as people live longer and are healthier for longer we will hear more stories like hers. People do seem to be active far longer than in the past and now it is not uncommon to see older seniors regularly going to a gym to exercise. By extension, does that mean that more will take up flying, skydiving and hang gliding in years to come? Or is it just that some people crave excitement, and danger and never quite grow out of it? Will 90 become the 'new 50' before long?

For whatever its worth, I think its fantastic that a woman of 90 learned to fly a plane. And tried skydiving and everything else this brave 'young' woman has the 'stomach' to do. I suppose in time I will discover if I will be a forever chicken or adopt a 'now or never' attitude. Until then, I will happily enjoy reading about others who actively seize the day!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Thoughts about Alzheimer's Disease

            September is World Alzheimer's Month. I read an article the other day about a family impacted by this horrible disease and it got me to thinking about my own family. For those of you who follow this blog, you will know that my grandmother had Alzheimer's Disease well over 20 years ago. I watched as it stole her from us piece by piece. As her dignity disappeared. As the person we knew, no longer existed. Yes, her body was there, but how horrible that the essence of her as a person we knew, was no longer. On some level, one wonders what disease is better or worse to die from - one where you know what is going on or one where you don't? That being said, no disease is 'good' and all diseases take with them the hidden victims that are rarely accounted for in the statistics we are so often presented with - those who love and look after the afflicted person.
          My window into illness, as a former hospital social worker, has given me a perspective on many diseases. I have watched many people struggle with issues around death and dying and witnessed families bind together or pull apart because of disease. This sort of stress can bring out the best or the worst in people I suppose. At the time our own family went through it, I was not yet a social worker but I do believe that the professional I became, was in large part shaped by that life experience.
          I think, what makes Alzheimer's so difficult a disease to witness, is the progression. There are people who can live many years with it. And in some cases, at risk of wandering which necessitates them being institutionalized in a 'secure unit' for their own safety. How horrible it must be to visit your loved one in such a place!  Knowing they will never be well. Watching and waiting for them to die. I remember meeting a woman whose husband had early onset Alzheimer's in his 40's, and lived for many years with it. She said in the early years they never knew what was wrong with him but in the end, they lost everything because of his inability to work for so many years. She is one of the statistics of people living off basic pension but it is only because she was dealt a 'bad hand' in the game of life. My heart went out to her as I tried to imagine how someone like her managed to raise a family and care for a sick husband for so many years.
             With our increasing aging population, I worry about what the future holds for our seniors of tomorrow. Will we have the resources to cope with the many people afflicted? Will the dollars spent on research give us a cure or at the very least a means of delaying or diminishing the impact of the disease? Will we find better ways to provide care for those greatest at risk? It's fitting that the symbolic flower the disease are 'forget me nots' however, the irony is that for any family that has witnessed the disease first hand, the last thing you can do is forget the person or the disease that led to their slow demise.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Childhood Memories

Recently we took our children to the annual exhibition that comes to our city for 3 weeks every summer. I recall as a child going with my parents. There was always excitement and anticipation leading up to the day of our visit. The visit itself was full of sights, sounds and smells absent from our lives throughout the year. Everyone had their favourite treat, their favourite ride, their favourite game. The ground to cover seemed immense, the day went too quickly and the illusive prizes were cherished if we ever were fortunate enough to win one. I recall one year, going with a cousin who happened to luck into the giant dog prize and it stayed in her room for years as the colour faded and the neck sagged. The way in which she won it became folklore in our family. I think most kids today are so inundated with technology that the joy of what was simple but so very special to kids of the past, has been lost.

For this reason I continue to make that annual pilgrimage to the place that I have such fond memories of with the hope that one day, my children too will have the same special memories. With several years under their belts now, each has their favourite thing to do and special treat to eat. While a few things have changed over the years, it is mostly the same as I remember. There is still nothing quite like a fair at night, with the lights glowing, the rides moving, the people at the games calling out and asking you to take a leap of faith and part with your money for the chance to win a stuffed toy. My kids truly seem to look forward to and enjoy their visits there......still. I hope that the memories we make annually will be carried with them throughout their lifetimes. There is nothing quite like warm childhood memories to take you back to a simpler time and give you a smile when you most need it. I wonder if they too will ensure that they carry the tradition forward and take their kids when they have them.  It's an interesting thing, this annual fair. In some ways it is a bridge for me - a link between my past, my present and hopefully, my future.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Buckets of Ice

Several years ago while working  as a social worker on the respiratory service at a local hospital I worked with a doctor who ran the ALS clinic. When his patients were admitted to the inpatient service, I was usually assigned to work with them and their families. Usually they were not new to the diagnosis but the stage at which they were admitted was often the point at which they could not return home. For most it meant the point at which they were put on a ventilator to help them breathe. Many would walk in the hospital in crisis, never to be able to walk out again.

While I worked on many services over the 12 years I worked as a hospital social worker, and sadly saw many illnesses rob people of their abilities and their lives, my years on that service and the people I worked with there, left a lasting impact on me. I came to the conclusion that if there was a 'worst disease' to die from, ALS was it. I saw people robbed of their abilities to care for themselves, their ability to talk, their ability to walk and I saw families ripped apart from the stress and the decisions they had to make on behalf of their loved ones..

The worst thing perhaps about this illness, is that the one thing you are not robbed of, is your mind. The clinic staff would relate it to being 'buried alive' and truly, there is no better analogy.  Ethically, this illness raised many issues for the staff - especially when patients had chosen to be put on a ventilator when they could communicate but after a certain amount of time and significant deterioration, the family chose to remove it which quickly led to the person's death. It also raised issues of quality of life and how we were ill equipped to decide what quality of life meant to others. I carry with me so many lessons from those years and the patients and families I worked with and truly it shaped the person I am today.

Unfortunately, most people who knew about ALS in 'those days' were people who on some level were directly impacted by it. While 'one is too many', mercifully it does not impact people in the volumes that cancer or heart disease does so it is not talked about much, not part of the diseases that you see massive fundraising campaigns for and not something most people worry about getting. But, that was before the power of social media campaigns and talk of dumping buckets of ice on one's heads in order to increase awareness of this horrible illness.

In the last few weeks, social media has been filled with videos of people dumping ice on their heads and challenging others to do the same. I have to admit, I don't quite understand where buckets of ice relate to ALS but it is a very interesting idea that seems to have captured the world's attention. And more importantly, it has raised millions of dollars in support of this disease. I suppose, it speaks to the potential power - a positive power in this case - of social media and the significant impact it can have on the world at large. My hope is that this is only the beginning of the increasing awareness of this illness, it's impact and the need to find a cure for it.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The secret to a happy retirement

Someone recently asked me when I planned to retire. Frankly, I didn't know what to answer. I cannot imagine what retirement would 'look like' for me and the thought of not working had me wondering if I ever want to not work. We all hear the stories of people who are incredibly bored during retirement. I remember working with a woman many years ago who started counting her years to retirement 20 years before but when faced with the prospect for real, she chose instead to work part-time doing the same job she anxiously awaited not doing for years.

So, what's the secret? What enables some people to be happy and fulfilled in retirement? I started searching information on this and seem to have found a few bits of information that may be quite useful when the time comes.

It is no secret that money is not the key to happiness - we all know wealthy people who were terribly unhappy - however, being debt free and having enough saved will make life more comfortable and will afford the opportunity to do things you might want to do. With my knowledge base, I also know that having a bit of money will also allow you to pay for care you may need should you be faced with a need for it in the distant future. So while money is not the ticket, it certainly can help you be comfortable.

I  think finding meaning is incredibly important - when you spend so much of your life working, work is often a part of who you are and in many cases gives you meaning and reason to get up in the morning. Those who I know who have what they would consider a 'good retirement' spend time volunteering, working part-time or involved in activities that make them feel happy. In a sense, giving back, has that 'feel good' quality that most yearn for. As well, it keeps you socially active, meeting people, less isolated and more in tune with what is going on in the world.

Keeping physically and mentally active is incredibly important for a host of reasons. With medical advances we are all living longer. It's important that we live longer healthier. It doesn't need explanation. The best way to stay healthy is to practice good eating habits, get regular exercise and do things to keep your brain active.

Human beings are social creatures. We need people. People who spend many hours at work often neglect having a social network so when they retire, they don't have that social stimulation they have grown accustomed to in the workforce. Creating and maintaining a social network when you are younger will give you life long connections you may come to depend on in retirement. If however you don't have connections like that or even if you do, do what you can to meet new people, consider mentoring someone, join social clubs, hobby clubs, attend events, take courses - anything that will allow you to meet people who share common interests with you.

In between all of this activity, consider things that you really want to do, things that you simply haven't had the time or money to do in the past, which you might be able to do now that you aren't consumed with a work schedule. If you want to see the world, make a plan to do it, one year at a time, one country at a time. If you have always wanted to learn something new/different/unique, find out how and where you can do it.

So the secret? Ultimately, if you are fortunate enough to be healthy in retirement, take advantage of the gift of time and health - make health a priority, meet people, spend time doing something that is meaningful and plan ahead (financially) when you are younger so that you can be able to do all of the things you would like to. It is far better to look forward in anticipation than to look back with regret.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

100 years and counting..........

An article in the paper caught my eye early  this week. We are all living longer - no surprise there. However, it is estimated that in the next 50 years the number of Canadians living to 100 and beyond will jump to close to 80,000! One would expect that because of medical advances, everyone will be in better health for longer however, the cost of healthcare will also be higher. And judging from the last several years, even if we still have some sort of government health plan, what it will cover may be far more limited than what we currently have.

There is already a shift in when people retire. It seems later and later. Many people work, even if only part time, well past 65. That being said, living longer also means needing retirement income for longer. So how much will one need to retire in the future? And how long will the average person have to work in order to have enough money to 'enjoy' retirement?

There are figures on how many people actually buy (and/or maximize the use of) RRSPs and from my recollection the number is fairly low. That being said, there are many people who simply don't have the extra income to buy RRSPs and will be forced to either work well into old age or will be dependent on limited government pensions to make ends meet. The quality of life factor for people living life to over 100 in a difficult financial situation may indeed be quite limited.

Given all of this information, housing for seniors will need to change a bit as well. It seems that we will have to find creative ways of looking after our increasing number seniors who may not have the extra income to pay for care/specialized housing. One can only hope that we use the next 50 years to figure out how to ensure a good and healthy quality of life for all seniors regardless of their age or financial situations.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Yes, it's true....

 Last week, an article appeared in a local newspaper about yours truly. It was about how and why I started doing the book - the Comprehensive Guide to Retirement Living - and the website www.senioropolis.com. I had done the interview a couple of months back and did not know it would be appearing in print (or what the journalist would actually write) until people started emailing me about it (a link to the article in now posted on our About Us page). What I found interesting was the number of contacts, people I know, who asked if it was 'true'. They wondered if my experience as a young adult, of a grandmother who had dementia and was admitted to a not-so-nice nursing home, was actually true and if it indeed had shaped my future in that profound a way.

So, for all of you who didn't ask but wondered the same thing, the answer is a resounding yes. My experience with my grandmother happened while I was a social work student learning and absorbing and trying to understand the right way to do things as a professional. Our family felt powerless, lacked information about how 'the system' worked and had no idea who to ask for help. Decisions were made without everyone who needed to be there present and information was not properly communicated. It was a different time - more than 25 years ago - and our system has changed significantly but from the calls we get, there are still instances where people feel all of the above.The social worker I became was significantly impacted by that family experience. It just so happened that I ended up as a hospital social worker a few years later. And that I ended up working mainly with seniors who couldn't return to living independently and needed help finding a new home.  I came to understand that our family experience was not a unique one. And so, I decided that I needed to find a way to help people navigate a system that was a bit fragmented and difficult to negotiate under normal circumstances, never mind when stress levels are high.

I think our experiences shape who we become and certain experiences impact us more than others. While I never set out to become a hospital social worker who worked with seniors on a conscious level, I do believe that this experience very much pointed me in the direction that would become more of a mission than a career choice.  My grandmother had been a significant influence on me growing up. And while I do have some nice childhood memories of her, my young adult memories are overwhelmingly populated by images of her frail body in a nursing home that simply did not provide adequate care or treat her with dignity. In those last years, she didn't know us and so the recognition that the person we knew was no longer there became the context through which I came to understand how difficult it was to deal with memory loss in someone you loved.

I don't think, when I started to do the book, I realized how many people I would actually help, how long I would continue to do it or how big it would become. It was simply something I needed to do at the time when I recognized a hole in our system.  To this day,  my greatest reward is receiving feedback from people The Guide has helped. I suppose empowering others to understand what our family didn't, has helped me turn something negative into something positive.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

How important is paper?

I spend a significant amount of time discussing the value of  'paper publications' with people. It seems that for those who have grown up with computers, paper and hard copy books are no longer valued. Despite the fact that computers have opened up the world to us, there is still tremendous value for many in having specific information in one spot especially if you are older and perhaps not very tech savvy or, don't carry a computer with you wherever you go. Many older folks and even some 'relatively young' ones are still using paper. Many tell me that when it comes to researching  information on one topic (like retirement homes), they prefer it to be accessible in paper format. This is even true of professionals who, when they are not at a desk/computer, simply need a way to access information quickly. There seems to be an assumption from many younger people, that with the great volume of information online, everyone should be able to find what they need on the internet. Yet, based on the calls we get, even if relevant information is there, not everyone can find it or work with it.

I am saddened when I think about the fact that one day, libraries & book stores will no longer exist. While there are are still books and ebooks, our kids are completely dependent on short 140 character messages, social media sites and abridged information. Children in grade school no longer learn how to write in cursive - the side effect is they no longer can read it either.  While technology is giving us much, we may want to stop to consider, what it is taking away from us. If we do, we may be less inclined to discard things that gave us a deeper connection to others than our current forms of communication do.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Seniors and Technology

It seems that seniors are well on the way to embracing technology. Statistics Canada has determined that over 30% of seniors aged 75+ are online; up from 5% in the year 2000.

This is great news on several fronts. It seems that those that are online, find that it helps them stay 'socially connected', enabling them to maintain contact with friends and family who may be a great physical distance away. While some are using email and even Facebook to connect, others benefit from programs such as Skype that allows them to talk and see a person at the same time. A 'virtual visit' can decrease isolation and help maintain relationships.

As well, many find it helpful to use a computer to stay connected to the world at large when they are able to navigate websites and news feeds. And still others use virtual gaming systems that pick up movement, as a way to stay physically active especially in the winter months. Several retirement homes even have these game systems for residents to use and find that residents (and their grandchildren) love them.

Many seniors are looking at technology as as way to stay independent and with their familiarity with computers, many may be one day able to use new devices being developed to stay healthy and remain in their homes with 'virtual support' through tools that detect changes in gait or movement, medication reminders and other functions.

For those who wish to try out programs or tools but are reluctant for fear that they may not know how to work it properly, it might be helpful to speak to others who use what you are interested in trying out for some instruction or helpful tips.Start slowly and don't be afraid of the unknown. Gaining skills with technology is sure to open up a realm of possibilities!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Falling through the cracks

An article in our local paper caught my eye this morning. It was about a 72 year old woman who was evicted two years ago from her low income government housing unit because she had been hoarding. Living in a shelter, minus most of her possessions and not telling her family or friends, she is spending her 'senior years' without privacy and dignity.

It got me thinking - how is it possible that someone falls through the cracks so significantly and no one notices but a newspaper reporter? Why is it 'acceptable' that in order to 'fix' a problem - presumably this person's hoarding - our 'progressive' and 'inclusive' society and its public servants, find it acceptable to send this woman to the streets without supports, without notifying anyone who could help or anyone who cares about her?

While there are at least two sides to every story and realistically we only know one of them, it is clear that this person's issues were noticed and she had been brought before the Landlord Tenant Board before her eviction. Could more not have been done to help her before forcing her out of her home? What about society's collective responsibility to protect the most vulnerable? Do we all not deserve to be treated with some dignity and respect? While one has to wonder how for two years she could keep this secret from those who know her, how they don't ask questions or notice anything isn't quite right, one can completely understand this woman's sense of embarrassment and pride as a reason for not asking for help. She is caught between a rock and a hard place - she cannot find a new home because of her financial limitations and because she is concerned if the label of 'hoarder' is attached to her, no one will want her living in their property. And she is too afraid of the consequences of reaching out to medical professionals for help.

How many people like her are falling through the cracks? And how many more will fall, as our ageing population increases in number and more and more people require supportive housing? For some time now I have worried about the 'black hole' tomorrows seniors on basic pensions will face when they start needing care that our system cannot afford to cover. This is one more facet of that concern. Even if she doesn't need physical care, she does need help. Someone knowing that dropped the ball. The question is, who is there to pick it up again?

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Innovative Seniors' Housing

Every now and then, there is an article about the anticipated 'senior tsunami' that will be upon us in less than 20 years. Recently there was an article in the paper that anticipated that before long, 25% of our population will be senior. The first question that comes to mind when I read things like this is - how are we going to look after our elderly in the future? How will we manage care? And how will many afford care?  Keeping in mind that with medical advances people will live longer, and hopefully healthier for longer, there may be less of an anticipated need for homes that provide care, and more of a need for 'ageing in place'. This, coupled with varying degrees of financial independence may indeed push the seniors industry as a whole, to look more at innovation in current settings and less at constructing buildings.

Lessons and ideas for Canada, can be learned by looking at other countries and what they are doing that works and doesn't work. In the Netherlands 'Apartments for Life' with mixed levels of care is commonplace. In Scandinavia there are smaller scale seniors communities that work well for their population. In the US there are things like congregate housing /seniors communities, neighbourhood based retirement programs, naturally occurring retirement communities and senior co-housing (which is starting to occur a bit in Canada as well). There are things like Campuses of Care popping up in various areas where there is a range of care levels all in one setting. And there are a few universities that are building retirement settings on their campuses for seniors who wish to continue learning. We are hearing about new kinds of memory care which offer innovative ways to care for people with memory problems. And lately I have read several articles about advances in technology which allow for people to stay in their homes with the assistance of technology that alerts people off site if there are problems. Clearly there will be more research and technology aimed at seniors in the future which looks at maximizing independence in a cost effective way.  We are also seeing new fields of training - in the US there are now 'Geriatric Care Managers' and 'Certified Ageing in Place Specialists'. Active Ageing is becoming a common term and even the World Health Organization has created a definition for it.

The next 20 years will be a time of substantial growth for the 'senior care industry' as it is forced to look at different ways to provide care to our elderly. It may also be a time in which our governments are forced to look at pension and health care reform as it learns to cope with the ageing population and limited resources. Gaps in service will need to be addressed as will changes to the infrastructure of of communities to accommodate the growing number of seniors. Without doubt we are entering a time of change and challenge. The seniors of tomorrow will be the ones who will  inspire us to be innovative and creative.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Senior-Friendly Communities

Is your community senior-friendly? Do you know what that means & how to achieve it?

Several years ago I was visiting a new retirement home. On taking a private tour with the marketing person, we stopped in a lounge with a large window over looking a traffic light. I watched for a few minutes to see how long the traffic lights stayed on green and red. As I watched cars whip by and pedestrians run across the road to catch the green light, it occurred to me that anyone with a physical impairment or with an inability to 'run' would not make the light. I asked the person touring me if she had notified the city of this and in fact, she had not even noticed the issue. That factor aside, the city was well aware that a seniors home was going up close to a very busy intersection. One would wonder why the lights were not adjusted the moment that home opened to ensure that no one got injured crossing the street. I suppose the argument could be made that the responsibility rested with the home but I wonder if we don't have a collective responsibility to keep our vulnerable residents safe?

We all know our population is ageing. And many cities were built at a time when 'senior safety' was not a priority and even if it was way back when, many areas have infrastructures that are older and need updating shortly. So what can we do to look after our current and future seniors? In the first place, things like traffic lights need to be looked at - as do increasing the number of cross walks in areas where there is a large space between lights - especially in an area where there are many seniors that frequent. Other important changes to look at include: making public transportation more accessible and even expanding it in certain areas, creating more spaces to sit and to walk safely, fixing side walk issues, increasing disabled parking spots, increasing areas in and outside that are wheelchair/walker accessible and allow for easy movement from road to side walk if you do use a wheelchair.

Beyond this though, we also need to look at how we care for our seniors - moving forward innovation will be the key... but more on this in a future blog.........

Friday, 13 June 2014

Happy Father's Day!!!

On Sunday June 15, 2014 all of North America will celebrate Father's Day. The very first Father's Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910. In Canada and the US it is celebrated on on the 3rd Sunday in June but many other countries celebrate it on other days in the year.

As much as many identify Father's Day, Mother's Day and Valentine's Day as Hallmark Card days, the reality is, it is nice to have at least one day a year to stop to recognize our parents and the sacrifices they have made for us over the years.

Parenthood is probably the hardest 'job' in the world. Something that comes without an instruction book and leads to a lifetime of worry but also, a lifetime of joy. I think few people actually realize how difficult parenting another human being is until they have a helpless baby in their arms. Few children realize the sacrifices their parents made for them until they have children of their own.

On some level, it is unfortunate that we need to denote one day a year as special for a parent however, in our fast paced world, for those who take a parent for granted every other day of the year, its nice that there is one day that we can actually devote to them (and in some cases, that they let their kids 'spoil' them).

If you ask most dads they would say that spending time with their kids is far more important than any 'gift' they can get. Often that is all most of us want. The gift of 'time' is one of the most precious things you can give someone any day of the year. We are often so busy worrying about what to 'buy' someone, that we often forget that the best gifts don't have a dollar value attached to them.

So do acknowledge your dad this weekend - be it your real father, stepfather or grandfather. Let them know how much you value them and all they do for you all year long.

Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Happy Seniors' Month!!

Every June Canada celebrates Seniors' Month. 2014 is the 30th Anniversary of this celebration in Ontario with the theme for this year being "Aging Without Boundaries: 30 Years of Celebrating Seniors". There are events throughout the province, and indeed Canada as a whole, that recognize seniors and their ongoing contribution to society. It really is quite wonderful that we denote a month to recognize seniors and to encourage events and opportunities to do this. Seniors who are involved in activity programs or with seniors agencies will likely know about many events taking place throughout this month however, if a senior is not connected in that way, they may not be aware of this.
If you have seniors in your life, you may want to let them know that they can easily find out events through their local seniors agency, the website for the senior secretariat, or simply doing a search online for seniors events in June in their region.
While group celebrations are great, the personal touch is far more important. So if you do have a senior in your life, take some time to let them know you appreciate all they have done - a small gesture often goes a long way!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A Senior with a Spy Cam

I read an article yesterday about a senior who managed to 'catch' a caregiver who was stealing from her using a spy camera placed in a clock in her home. Not only did she have the presence of mind to realize the small amounts of money missing over time, but she also figured out how to catch the thief! Wonderful and amazing. But I also think unusual. I don't think most people would have the presence of mind to figure out what to do in such a situation and it leads one to wonder how many other seniors are financially exploited unknowingly. Especially those who don't have family watching or visiting regularly. Those are the people I worry most about.

I often wonder what kind of person would take advantage of someone in their care, someone vulnerable who trusts them. I wish I had an answer.

When people ask me how to find a good caregiver for a loved one or even a good home, my number one answer is research. As much as its important to trust people with caring for your loved ones - be it children or seniors, there are always people who will take advantage of a situation or worse. We often read stories of bad experiences people have in homes or with caregivers and one has to wonder how common this is. However, even if it's a one in a million chance, it still doesn't negate the need to be careful and get references. If you are that one, it really doesn't matter what the chances were!

So what's the lesson we can take from this? I think it's do what you can to protect the seniors you love. Make sure someone you care about isn't in a position to be exploited by anyone. Listen if they have concerns about someone looking after them. Research choices & options to make sure they are safe. Get references. Be careful. Ask questions. Understand that there are many good people out there but a few that are not so good. Buyer Beware is my rule of thumb for anything we do or anyone we hire for someone I love.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Do you know what it costs???

A few years ago, I was speaking with an investment advisor about what he thought people needed in their retirement years. He gave me a figure - I can't recall what it was - that just seemed very unrealistic - way too low in my estimation, especially if one ends up requiring care or a retirement home. I asked him if he knew what it costs to live in an average retirement home. He had NO idea! I was actually surprised, but I shouldn't have been. He was a young guy, probably didn't know anyone living in a retirement home and it likely never occurred to him that he should educate himself about this information. Every time I spoke with an investment person after that, I asked them the same question. Do you know what it costs to live in a retirement home on a monthly basis? The only ones that had an idea were those who had older clients who had told them the costs - still, it didn't seem to be something that they factored in when discussing with the average client, what you needed in your bank account to retire comfortably. I came to realize that beyond investment managers, the average person really didn't investigate retirement homes or extra costs if  they need care when older.

Most people only start asking the question when they or a close relative need it. For many that is way too late if they haven't invested or saved over their many working years. If I can give anyone advise early on in their working lives, it would be to start asking financial questions early on. To start thinking about the kind of life you want moving forward and what you can do to get there. Of course, you can never map out your life fully and for most there are bumps and detours in the road over time, but its important for people to at least start thinking about savings and retirement when they still have time to work toward saving for it. An average retirement home in today's dollars can range in price from the mid-$2000's to as much as $10,000/month depending on who owns it, where it's located and several other factors. And this figure may not include care. In some places we are looking at more for care, and of course for incidentals. Multiply this by the number of years you may potentially live in one of these homes and the figures can be daunting. While right now there is a government pension fund available to all Canadians, it is never going to be enough if you need extra care. What about if you want to stay in your home with care? What would the cost be for that? It depends on what you want in terms of care - live in or live out. And where you live. And what's available in your community. There are financial products currently that can help with this - long-term care insurance is one of those things. When I looked into it, I found the premiums very high. But if you can't save enough over time to help with your potential future needs, maybe this is an option to consider for some..... This whole topic can be mind boggling for some and may seem way too far in the future to consider for many, but aging is inevitable so this is not something any of us can ignore forever.....

As difficult a topic as this is to discuss or consider, it needs to be something more financial and insurance professionals need to educate themselves on and raise with their clients. And it needs to be something we are comfortable opening a discussion about with those we care about.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Do you remember where you were?

This morning I saw some of the live feed of the dedication of The National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York which will be opened to the public next week. As I watched President Obama so eloquently pay tribute to those who lost their lives that day, I couldn't help but think back  almost 13 years ago to the moment we heard and realized how horrific a tragedy it truly was.

I was working at a large hospital that had a trauma centre. I had wandered to the end of the ward where there was a TV on with the news - little did we all know how much our world would change that day. A doctor sat in the lounge, speechless. It took a bit of time for it to all sink in. And then the word spread. We were tasked with discharging all stable people to make room for mass casualties. Even though we were in Canada, it was thought in those early minutes (before we truly understood how terribly tragic the whole situation was) that we were close enough to New York that if their hospitals ran out of space, we would be able to assist. We were bracing ourselves to help but sadly, we were not called upon to do so. Little did we know that so many had died - and that hospital space across the border, would not be necessary.

I suppose, much like the day Kennedy died, September 11, 2001 has gone down as a day anyone alive that could comprehend the events of that day, will always remember.

I think we will always be amazed of stories of heroism and selflessness. With so many lost, to know the stories of each person and their families, seems an impossibility. Yet, perhaps this museum is the best way to memorialize them both individually and collectively. It gives the survivors a place to mourn & perhaps to heal. It gives others a place to remember, to learn, to never forget the evil that is in this world and to marvel at the importance and possibility of moving on and overcoming the impossible. Most fitting is a quote from Mayor Michael Bloomberg: "The stories are the proof that what we do and the choices we make affect each others' lives and the course of human history....this museum is a testament to the resilience, the courage and the compassion of the human spirit..."

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Secret to Aging Well

When I worked in a hospital years ago, my reality was rather warped - I saw too much illness, and too many people with lives cut short or suffering for years. It was rare to see 'well seniors'. I once came upon a group of seniors having a ballroom dancing class in the park and stood in awe watching them. I was fascinated seeing people who had aged well and had 'spring in their step'. It was only once I stopped working in a hospital setting, that I realized how skewed my perceptions of health and illness were and, of aging. As time has passed, my work has taken me to the 'healthy side of aging'. Most retirement homes I have been in have many very active, content seniors who clearly live their lives to the fullest. Most seniors I meet these days seem to have redefined the meaning of what happens when we age and what 'retirement' means. Still, I am always on the lookout for heart-warming stories of what it means to 'Age Well'.

In today's Toronto Star, there is an article about a woman who lived until the age of 115. Imagine living in 3 centuries and the changes in the world that she witnessed! What is amazing is that her mind was sharp until the end, showing no signs of dementia. She didn't move into a retirement setting until she was 106. Hoping to gain some knowledge of how she survived in such good health for such a long lifetime, after her death in 2005, tests were done to look for clues. The belief is that her stem cells allowed her body to get rid of infections and problematic cells - essentially keeping her healthy. Amazingly she lived through a time when diseases killed many and medicine was not nearly as advanced so perhaps there is something to that. Clearly this woman defied the odds. I suppose though, that is the point. If something in her body specifically, allowed her to live so long and in such good health, what she had was quite rare - if indeed that is the full explanation for her longevity. As with so many things, maybe it was simply a combination of things - part good genes, part  healthy living and perhaps, a lot of luck. I suppose human beings will always be in search of the mythical 'fountain of youth' but knowing someone who lived until 115, doesn't mean that they hold the answer for all mankind. However, its nice to know that defying the odds is possible................

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Caregiver Leave in Ontario

There is some great news for caregivers in Ontario this week! Bill 21 - the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Leaves to Help Families) passed its third reading and is now on its way to becoming a law. This law will add to existing unpaid leaves employees can take for family reasons, while ensuring that their jobs are protected. For those who are in the role of caregiver for a loved one ("with a serious medical condition" which includes dementia), eligibility for up to 8 weeks of leave annually (with a medical note) will most definitely assist in the balancing act so many are forced to contend with on a daily basis.

The protection extends as well to parents of critically ill children (up to 37 weeks), and to parents of missing children (52 weeks) or those who tragically lost a child due to a crime (up to 104 weeks). Unfortunately, the leave available is all unpaid and the reality for most is that taking extended time off can indeed create the further stress of financial issues.  One battle at a time. Many who have been instrumental in getting this bill passed, are also lobbying to align Employment Insurance Benefit eligibility with this legislation.

Congratulations to all those who have worked so hard to ensure that caregivers of both young and old have one less thing to worry about when their attention and energy is focused on caring for someone they love. For more information on this new law you can visit http://news.ontario.ca/mol/en/2014/04/family-caregivers-bill-passes-final-vote.html

Monday, 28 April 2014

Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards

In addition to the many contributions seniors in Canada have made to our country, many continue to offer their services to all of us, without receiving any financial gain. Many  Canadians (often seniors) volunteer their time in many different non-profit settings. In a time of decreasing budgets, volunteers are vital in hospitals, community organizations and many other places. Millions of Canadians volunteer every year and in an effort to recognize them, our federal government has created something called the Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards. Nominations for this award are being accepted until May 9, 2014. There are 17 awards in total and organizations, individuals, groups and businesses can all be nominated in different categories. Specific to individuals who may be seniors, there is a National Lifelong Achievement Award for those who have volunteered for many years of their lives. For information and criteria about this award, visit www.pm.gc.ca/awards. 

Do you know a volunteer, organization or a business you would like to nominate???

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Driving and Dementia

I saw something online today that caught my attention. It had to do with the changes this month to Ontario's driver license renewal program for seniors over 80. While when I initially read about the changes, I thought they were making it easier for a senior to pass and worried about what that would mean for seniors with some forms of 'hidden' disabilities, I have come to understand that in fact, they have added a much needed dimension to the testing process. The Ministry has added some cognitive testing that will hopefully ensure that those with dementia who have a reduced reaction time or have difficulty with important cues will be identified through this renewal process.

While driving is an important aspect of independence that can be difficult to give up - and for that reason, one would not want to be forced unnecessarily to give this up before one has to - a car driven by someone who has reduced cognitive capacity can put the driver and others on the road with him, at great risk. For this reason, while it is wonderful that the Ministry of Transportation is taking the initiative by adding this new level of testing, in fairness, their scope of identifying issues is limited because those over 80 renew every 2 years. A lot can change in a 2 year period so this does not in any way remove responsibility from medical personnel or family members from expressing concern and in fact, dealing with those concerns, if they notice a senior is exhibiting cognitive issues that may impact their driving safety.

Talking to a loved one about emotional issues impacting their independence - whether its needing help at home, relocating to a care home or possibly giving up their driving license - is never easy. In fact, it can be some of the most difficult conversations you will have but, all are important and very necessary if you hope to keep them and in some cases others, safe.

For added reading material or support information on helping someone you know with dementia please visit www.alzheimer.ca. For information on the new Seniors' Driver Renewal Program in Ontario visit www.mto.gov.on.ca.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Cost to Mail a Letter in Canada Goes Up Today!

"With the increasing use of digital communication and the historic decline of letter mail volumes, Canada Post has begun to post significant financial losses," the corporation said in a December news release.

As of April 1, 2014 (today)  the cost to mail a single letter envelope (up to 30g) in Canada goes up from 63 cents to 85 cents. The 85-cent rate is only available if stamps are purchased in a pack. If you want to buy just one stamp, it will cost $1.00. All other package mail will also cost more to mail (larger envelopes can cost up to $1.80 each). US mail costs anywhere from $1.20 to $2.95 depending on how much it weighs and international postage costs between $2.50 to $5.90 - again depending on the weight. Check the Canada Post website (www.canadapost.ca) for prices for larger packages.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Dementia - Finding Your Way Program

The statistics are staggering - more and more people every year are diagnosed with dementia.Ontario is projecting that in 6 years that number  of people in the province with this issue will be in the range of 250,000. Given our aging population, I suppose a rise in dementia as that senior cohort gets older is not too surprising.  For those witnessing the cognitive decline of someone they love, it is extremely difficult to come to terms with losing the person you know, while still seeing them as physically present. We are fortunate that there are organizations we can turn to for information and emotional support. In Ontario, our Alzheimer's Society has partnered with our provincial government to expand something called the 'Finding Your Way' Program in multiple languages to accommodate our ever increasing multicultural population.

According to a recent news release "The program will help prevent people with dementia from “wandering” and going missing, and help caregivers and other family members prepare for such incidents, if they occur... The Finding Your Way (TM) safety kit contains tools and resources to help ensure the safety of the person with dementia without depriving them of their independence or dignity, and information to help families create personalized safety plans. The kit includes:
* An identification kit with space for a recent photo and physical description that can be shared with police in an emergency
* At-home safety steps to help prevent missing incidents from occurring
* Steps to safeguard a person with dementia, such as using the Alzheimer Society of Canada’s MedicAlert® Safely Home® program
* Tips on what to do when a person with dementia goes missing and when reuniting after a wandering incident
* The latest information on locating devices". (Quoted from: www.alzheimer.ca/on/~/media/Files/on/Finding-your-way/FINAL_FYW%20Phase%202%20News%20Release_Jan28.ashx)

For further information on this program you can go to www.FindingYourWayOntario.ca

For more information on Alzheimer's Disease see the article Common Warning Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Comparing Housing Options for Seniors

I have done many lectures for groups of seniors and their families over the years. What I find interesting is that more often than not, the piece of information most know little about, is the difference between each level of care and how you determine the kind of place you may need to go to when the time is right. I think that most people assume that there are 'seniors homes' where seniors can go. Until you are in a situation of having to make a decision, what that means and where you actually can go, is not the sort of information you seek out. Unfortunately, it is something people should learn about before the need for it creeps up on them. Knowing the difference and when to start looking might very well impact quality of life and choices available. The sooner you become aware of options, the better. Needing little or no care affords you far more choice and, in some cases, may prevent or delay the need for long-term care.
So, for those of you that might need some info on different levels of seniors care and accommodation here is a quick overview.
Independent Seniors' Apartments - these are usually private apartments with no care but potentially with rent geared to income. Some might have a visiting doctor or social type programs but essentially they are for the well and independent who does not need any significant care.
There are now some Senior Condominiums which are for purchase units but usually if they are billed as 'Seniors' settings then there is either some care or housekeeping available and often dining facilities on site. Again though, one would have to be fairly independent in this type of a setting. Life Lease/Equity Units are a variation on a Seniors' Condo because you purchase a the right to live in the unit, not the unit itself.
Retirement Residences - are usually privately owned and operated. Some provinces do have regulation/legislation - most recently Ontario has added this dimension to retirement living. While most residents go in when they are fairly independent, there is usually the option of adding care as needed for a price and often meals on site. Costs vary depending on many factors. Some homes add the option or indicate that they provide "Assisted Living' which may simply mean that the 'care portion' is included or available. More and more homes do have the capacity for significant care or even managing people with dementia. 
Long Term Care /Nursing Homes - are for those requiring significant care but are medically stable. The government of each province sets the rates so all homes in this category charge the same. As well, they usually manage applications and waiting lists. All meals are included as well as care. In most provinces the resident is responsible for room and board costs and incidentals they may require. 
Complex Care - this is for the medically unstable person or one with very complex issues. These places are more like a hospital-like setting and doctors and nurses are on staff all the time. 
Palliative Care - usually this is for people that have a prognosis of 3 months or less. Comfort care only is provided. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Relocation and Visiting Tips

If after considerable thought and effort to keep a senior in their home, you come to the conclusion that relocation is the best option, there are several things you can do to assist. First of all, the decision should be as co-operative a process as possible. The senior should be involved in the decision making as much as possible and before starting your search discuss financial concerns and limitations.Figure out what area they would like to live in and if possible ensure that it is somewhere that friends or family can get to easily. Make a list of things they want to have in their new home and neighbourhood keeping in mind that you will need to know things that are 'deal breakers' and things they can live without. Make up a list of questions (as a reference you can certainly download our 'visiting tips' from our website). Take a new questionnaire to each home. You may want to narrow down your search to 3 places that meet your/their needs and then take them on tours. Ensure you try the food and if possible speak to residents. If they will allow, take photos of each home to assist you when you are trying to decide. Also make notes during each visit. To assist with decision making, you may want to make a list of the pros and cons of each home and then perhaps suggest a trial stay for a few days or a week so they can get a feel for the place before selling or renting their current home.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Having the Talk - Part 2

Now that you have identified that you need to have a conversation with your loved one, how do you actually sit down and have it? I suppose we should go back one step first though. Before you have this talk, be prepared to listen, be non-judgmental, be supportive, be prepared for the emotions everyone involved might experience and be prepared. If you can, do your homework in advance so you have some answers - know possible resources/options and costs. If you are pulling in other family members, ensure you are all going to be on the same page when you meet and not work at cross purposes.

The meeting location should be comfortable for everyone with limited distractions. If there is an agenda of sorts you can use it to stay on topic. Ensure you work in time for everyone to have a chance to talk and do your best to ensure that the person you are talking about has a chance to speak and is given every opportunity to stay in their own home for as long as possible, as long as it is safe, with supports in the home if necessary. Be careful not to argue, criticize or make it about the others in the room. The focus is and should only be the 'senior', why there are concerns, and solutions to fix them. Use observation and facts only. Don't demand or force anything. Focus on positive things and what can be done to help. Prioritize the things that are most important first and if you can devise a 'team plan' so responsibility is shared for the tasks required, things will be far easier for all involved. Set up a 'task list' for everyone. Keep in mind that this might be the first meeting of several and things may need to be monitored and tweaked as time passes. Sometimes if people see that all efforts have been made to keep the person in their own home, if relocation is ultimately required, it is far easier to accept and get 'buy in'.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Getting through the hard stuff - discussing care and relocation

 How do you discuss care and relocation with someone you love? How do you convince them that giving up some independence may actually keep them independent for longer?

I think this ranks among one of the more difficult discussions anyone can have. And sometimes, it takes many tries and some added help before the other person truly understands the concerns. I think often people get into a groove of functioning in a certain way and as long as nothing major happens (and sometimes this is because there is someone else in the house with them which may allow them to function in a co-dependent fashion) they don't realize the potential dangers or issues that others outside their setting see. Sometimes when that second person is gone, things fall apart and then reality sets in. I think the trick, is getting the supports in before this happens. So how do we do this? For the 'caregiver'/family, I think you need patience and you need to be able to open the lines of communication. Often both are very difficult to do. It might be easier though, if you start talking early on. Before anyone is sick, or in need of help or things hit a crisis point.

I know when I have done lectures separately for seniors and children of seniors, there is a common theme. They are both worried about what the future holds, but they are also both afraid to talk about it to the other person. Everyone is waiting for the 'best time' to talk about it when there really isn't one. But, being 'afraid' doesn't make anything better or anything go away. Talking about it may actually  be the thing that makes things better - it will give you an understanding of where the other person stands, what they want and what makes sense in terms of their financial situation and other factors. And talking about it early on allows you both to plan. The longer you leave a discussion like this, the less likely you will have much choice when the time comes.

Sometimes it's easier to start talking when you make it about someone else. For example, talk about a friend both of you know, who didn't plan ahead and who had a crisis that created a major problem for all parties. Use it as a way to broach the subject as it relates to them and what they would want. If the person refuses to have the conversation, you may have to wait a bit to raise it again or bring in others to aid you like a trusted clergy or doctor. Unfortunately, there are situations where people do live at risk and there is nothing anyone can do about it. In these situations, sometimes things do have to get worse or a crisis has to happen, before any intervention can happen. Bottom line - if someone is competent, you can't force anything nor can you make decisions for them without their consent.

Next time.... Having the Talk...........

Friday, 21 February 2014

Tax Credit for Home Renovations

Since tax time is around the corner, I thought some of our readers might benefit from knowing about a fairly new tax credit that Ontario has created. there is now something called the "Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit" which is for those 65+ years old (or those living with someone of that age) who are doing or have done renovations to their home in order to make it safer and/or more accessible for them. There is a list of all renovations that are eligible for the credit including small things like grab bars to larger things like ramps for wheelchairs,kitchen renovations to assist with safety and access etc. Before doing renovations you might want to check the list online to see what qualifies or if you have recently done a reno you can check to see if it meets the criteria to claim it at www.ontario.ca/taxes-and-benefits/what-expenses-qualify-healthy-homes-renovation-tax-credit. With the tax credit you can claim up to $10,000 worth of improvements on your tax return. For information on this tax credit or to use their online 'credit calculator' you can visit www.ontario.ca/taxes-and-benefits/healthy-homes-renovation-tax-credit.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


I think the role of 'caregiver' in a family can be one of the most difficult to have. Often people go from being the 'child' of their parent to seemingly suddenly, becoming their 'parent'. The role reversal in itself is a huge thing to come to terms with for so many. For many, its a role that a person is 'thrust' into rather than knowingly eased into. Often there is no time to look for an 'instruction manual' on how to do this right. It's easy to become overwhelmed and over time experience burnout and in extreme cases, the caregiver themselves can experience physical and mental health issues.

Over the years, working with caregivers, there are a few things I have come to observe which might assist caregivers/future caregivers who are reading this blog. Firstly, communication is key. Caregivers need to be good at communicating to medical staff, support workers, family and friends. You need to be able to ask questions and let people know what is happening with you and your loved one. For some it takes the form of phone or in person contact, for others, a communication book works, especially when there are other caregivers who you may not see daily. Secondly, education is important. You need to ensure you know everything you can on the particular issues and illnesses impacting your loved one & the resources out there to assist you. Someone once told me that fear comes from not knowing. An incredible relief can be had when you know exactly what you are dealing with. Thirdly, when you take this on, you have to be prepared to share the responsibility in caring for that person with others - be it family members, friends or paid support workers. To ensure that burnout doesn't happen you have to learn to prioritize, stress manage and look after yourself. If you need help for yourself, ask for it. If you need a break, take it. In order to give care to someone else, you have to remain healthy and give care to yourself.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Emergency File

So who of our readers has an Emergency File? I’d bet most of you don’t. Have you even thought about creating one? I suppose I should explain what an Emergency File is first……. An Emergency File is a nice little folder where you keep all of your important documents, phone numbers, bank accounts, powers of attorney, Will – really anything that someone would need should you become ill or incapacitated. While some may think this would be best for some older folks, the reality is none of us knows what tomorrow will bring for us. If something happens to you would your loved ones know where important papers were that would assist them in making decisions for you? Or would help them look after immediate financial needs for you? It occurred to me years ago that a file containing all of these important documents, would be a great idea. I find an accordion file works well because you can organize your documents easily. Photocopies are all that should be in there and it should be updated as needed. The person who you are leaving in charge of things if something should happen, should know where you have put this file and if possible, should know what you want if you are unable to make decisions for yourself at some point…

For a more detailed article on this see How important are your documents?

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Senior Drivers in Ontario

When we find out new information for seniors we like to post it so we can help spread the word...........

Ontario drivers that are 80 years old and older must renew their licences every two years.

As of April 21, 2014 the process will change.  Seniors (80 and over) will no longer have to complete a written knowledge test to obtain their drivers licence renewal. The new renewal program will include a driver record review, a vision test, two screening exercises and an in-class group education session. The screening exercises are simple tasks to identify drivers who may need a road test or medical review.

We understand that the cost of the renewal will stay at $32.00 and should take approximately 90 minutes to complete.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Sunday Talk

Yesterday, Sunday February 2, 2014, I was a guest caller on CBC Radio's Cross Country Check Up with Rex Murphy. The tragedy in Quebec last month was the basis of the topic, "Are Seniors in Canada getting the standard of Care they Need?". The entire show can be heard in the podcast at http://www.cbc.ca/checkup/index.html . In preparing for this interview, I was struck by several questions and not nearly enough answers. How can we prevent this tragedy from happening again? Where else are there gaps in protecting seniors? Are current regulations enough to keep people in this vulnerable segment of society safe? There are most definitely gaps and areas for improvement but the question of where we need to do better rests with an "it depends" statement. It depends, where in Canada you live, what you need and how much money you have. Because we lack a National Policy on Seniors Care in Canada, every province makes their own decisions on how much regulation is necessary. Even when it comes to sprinklers apparently, provinces decide despite a fairly loose national policy. Regulation for retirement homes is not mandatory across Canada and there is a huge gap in our system where the private sector 'picks up the slack' so people who can afford extra service and care can receive it. For those who cannot, we watch and worry. Or, do we simply close our eyes so we won't see? Do we even know how many people we are talking about? Or how many more we will have that will 'fall between the cracks' as the years pass? Yes, there is more that can be done. We need more funding for homecare so people can remain in their own homes as long as they wish, perhaps we need more long-term care homes, so less people sit in hospital waiting for care they need, we need a better, workable Aging in Place Strategy, we need more education on options and better organization of information on existing supports, we need more support for caregivers, we need government funded retirement homes, we need to raise pension rates so seniors are not forced to live on under $13,000/year. We need to learn from tragedies like L'Isle-Verte and ensure that seniors do not die horrible deaths from preventable events.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Federal Government stop payments by cheque on April 1st, 2016

We just found out some important information that we wanted to share with our readers in Canada….

Did you know…

Starting April 1st, 2016 the federal government will no longer issue physical paper cheques for OAS, CPP & GST/HST opting instead to provide payments in a direct deposit format for all recipients. While it will be easier for people who cannot get to the bank regularly to receive payments in this way, cost is also a factor as it costs in the range of 83 cents per paper cheque vs. 11 cents for a direct deposit.

Currently approximately 90% of all Canadian seniors already receive their pension cheques through direct deposit. The goal is to get the rest ‘on board’ in the next two years.

You do not need a computer or the internet to start receiving your pension payments through direct deposit.  You may obtain the correct forms at your bank or financial institution and once they are processed your funds will be automatically deposited into your bank account on time always. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Our updated website!

If you are reading this blog, you most likely have seen our new and revised website. If you found us through some other route, please check out our site! As much as we loved our old site, we decided that it needed some updating and a way to make it accessible from any size screen. Since so many of our users have tablet or smartphones, our redesign has incorporated that and now our site is totally accessible and readable on and device! We have some neat icons that make linking to pages as easy as one click. So it’s a cleaner look and far easier to search for what you want. Keep in mind that most homes in Ontario are both online and in our book but we also have homes across Canada which are part of our online community. We also have a collection of Articles, some for all of Canada, other province specific, that are always changing. And we have resources – all kinds of resources, for seniors, families, those in their homes and others in care. If you have some time, play around with our site to see what we have to offer – and do send us feedback at any time at all. We would love to hear from you…….. www.senioropolis.com

Friday, 24 January 2014

Thoughts on the Quebec Fire Tragedy - contributed by Martha Rebelo & Esther Goldstein

Shortly after midnight on January 23, 2014, a small town named L'isle-verte in Quebec was struck with a tragedy that will haunt their small community and indeed, all of Canada, for years to come. A building fire started - we don't yet know how - at 'Residence du Havre', a "seniors  home" (it's not quite clear what level of care they were licensed to provide), killing many residents. At the time this is being written, 5 seniors have been identified as deceased and 30 are still unaccounted for - leading one to surmise that they too are no longer with us.

Under provincial regulations, a sprinkler system was apparently not required.

When a tragedy such as this strikes, one is left wondering where the blame lies. How can we ensure that this never happens again? Is it the home's fault for not moving their residents to a higher level of care when they became too sick or disabled to get out of the home without assistance? Should they have had more night staff? Would it even have made a difference? Or is the government at fault, whatever level of government that manages homes like this, for not insisting on sprinkler systems in all homes?

When it comes to 'senior homes' - and we use that term with difficulty because we are not really clear what kind of care, if any, that label denotes - should certain things not be mandatory in every province? Shouldn't sprinkler systems be in all buildings, especially those with people who don't move fast or need assistance?

Unfortunately, in Canada every province is independent when it comes to care for the elderly. There are even different names for different levels of care in the provinces - the one consistent level of care is long-term care or nursing home care but other than that, there is variation in what you call a certain type of home and what is standard practice in them. Regulation for 'retirement level' is not in every province yet (at this point its only in 4 provinces) and it varies from one province to another. This is a vulnerable sector and we, as a collective society need to do a better job of protecting them!

The images of the fire and destruction are painful to see. These people expected to finish their days in a safe environment. It doesn't seem like too great an expectation. They and their families trusted the home they were in to protect them and trusted that the safety standards in place, were good enough to allow that to happen. Regardless of where the blame lies, or who takes the blame - if anyone, nothing will bring back those who are gone, or replace what truly is lost.  

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Our 17th Edition!!!

It’s hard to believe how long I have been doing this. It really feels like it was just yesterday that I came up with the idea for a resource for seniors but the reality is that it was nearly 20 years ago! We have just released our 17th book (a new one comes out every January)! It is a huge undertaking every year but again this year we are absolutely thrilled with the finished product. It is well over 400 pages and filled with super valuable information on retirement homes, long term care homes, resources and all kinds of important information on the process of obtaining care and housing for a senior in Ontario. We feel very fortunate to have wonderful supporters and advertisers who willingly participate in our resource – the book and online version – year after year. Our book circulates to seniors and people who work with them through many different sources and we love getting feedback from all of them! We learn what we have done right and what we need to fix from our users on a regular basis. If you are one of the people that uses our resource, in any form, please feel free to send us an email with feedback and comments. If you are an advertiser or home in our 17th edition – we thank you – for trusting us enough to participate and knowing that we do our very best to produce a product worthy of your support. For those of you who might be new to our resource – we welcome you. If you have questions about our information, do feel free to email us through the contact us button on our website www.seniropolis.com. Please keep in mind that homes have access to update their information online at any time through their secure access however the book is compiled once a year so if you are using our printed book, we encourage you to check pricing information with homes directly to ensure you get an accurate picture.

Monday, 20 January 2014

A Social Workers Observations

Working as a hospital social worker, you see many things, not the least of which is incredible sadness. I think there are people, long gone, who will stay with me forever. People who have made lasting impressions with their struggles, their bravery, their support network or lack of it…….so many things. I feel very honoured to have known them and have learned something from every person who has crossed my professional path. I think in my early years as a social worker, I was overwhelmed by the concept of sickness. I used to travel on the bus back and forth to work and wonder, who was sick sitting beside me, who had a miserable family life, a fractured relationship, a life threatening situation that they were yet not aware of. I had to step away from the work, to understand that everyone has their burden, their albatross, but how we deal with it is what has the potential to make or break us. If we allow it to define us, it becomes something that holds us back, and in many cases, drags us down. The trick is learning to live with and accept the things in our life that we cannot change, and making a decision to overcome what we can.  There is no shame in not succeeding, no regret in trying and failing – the shame and regret only come when you don’t even try.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Money Talk - Contributed by Martha Rebelo

Why is it that we let money get the better of us?  How many of us buy something just because it is cheaper or a better price than a similar item we want or need? When I consider how many toasters I have bought, I am reminded of that saying “cheap stuff turns out to be expensive in the end” and I wonder if the same is true when looking at other things like care homes.  Is a higher priced home always better than one that doesn’t cost as much? In reality, homes in large cities often do cost more than homes in smaller centres however, it doesn’t always follow that the care is better or that you get ‘more’ because you pay more. Many retirement communities now have ‘extras’ regardless of where they are located. There are wonderful places all over Ontario and the bottom line cost should not be used to determine if one place is ‘better’ than the other. Potential residents should always go for a tour, try out the food, speak to other residents and even consider staying on a trial basis, before determining if it is a place they want to move to. While finances is an extremely important issue when making a decision of where to move, there are several other factors as well that are really important – consider language, culture, activities, food and most importantly care needs, when making your choices.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Finding a Good Home....

Many years ago I worked as a hospital social worker, often with people who couldn’t go home and needed to find a care setting to relocate to. One of the things I did as part of my job, was visit nursing homes and retirement homes to get an idea of the kind of care that was offered and a sense of the sort of homes our clients were going to. I remember in the early days of my ‘visits’ to such homes, I would know within a matter of 10 minutes, if it was a place I would want someone I knew to go. What can you learn in 10 minutes though, that would give you a sense of if it was a good or a bad place to go to? I found myself trying to figure out exactly what each place did or didn’t do, or was like, that gave me a ‘gut feeling’ about it. After a couple of these visits I realized that I was reacting in a very sensory way to each place. So, for example, I was reacting to smells, to a sense of clean or not clean, to a bright or dull environments, to the way the residents looked and if they seemed engaged and happy, to things I saw on the walls, to staff I saw or didn’t see around……..really so many things that one would not assume would provide so much information in so short a time. When I started doing the annual retirement home book, I used those sensory impressions, to help devise a questionnaire that caregivers can use when they visit homes for their loved ones. I think it helps to narrow choices and enables people to label the reasons for their impressions. Over the years I have added and subtracted – to date we have a 180 point questionnaire that people can download and take with them on these visits. This knowledge of how we can ‘use our senses’ to determine things by simply paying close attention to all of them and the reactions they stir in us, can help in many situations but if you are looking for a handy questionnaire that can help you in your search for a new home for a loved one, have a look at our website www.senioropolis.com and download our visiting tips straight from the site.