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