Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Holiday Caregivers

Being a caregiver to an elderly relative is both challenging and rewarding. This role can take a physical and mental toll on the person who has taken it on, adding to their many existing responsibilities of work and family life. This time of year can create additional stress for caregivers as one also attempts to plan for the holidays, entertain, shop etc. While we have written previous blogs on caregiving in our pages, for our last blog of 2015, I thought it might be helpful to share some thoughts on how to reduce one's stress as a caregiver during the holiday season.

Communicate - always an important aspect of caregiving and stress management, communicating with your loved ones and support network is critical. People cannot be expected to 'guess' what you need and what you are feeling. Often just sharing your concerns and thoughts will result in tremendous support for both you and the person you are caring for.

ASK FOR HELP - part of communicating is knowing when you need help and not being afraid to ask for it.

Share Responsibilities - when possible, delegate and share responsibilities that are weighing heavily on you. Caregiving is much easier when its a 'team effort'. There are often many people willing and able to help out - if you only let them know what you need.

Prioritize/Be Realistic - part of coping with significant responsibility is knowing what is important and necessary and recognizing what you can let go of. Sometimes this means changing the way you do things and other times it may mean letting others know your limitations. Taking on too much will only result in you feeling overwhelmed and sometimes in  physical or mental health issues. Instead of a happy holiday, you may indeed end up with quite an unhappy one. It is far better to do less and stay healthy, than do more and become unhealthy. In our world of unnecessary excess, simplifying your celebrations and just taking the time to relish the pleasures derived from sharing time with family & friends may be a wonderful change and the start of a new holiday tradition for you and your family.

Give yourself permission to feel - the holidays are often an emotional time for people, filled with memories of years gone by. As one's situation changes, and losses occur, you are bound to experience a wave of very normal emotions. It is completely okay to feel them and to share them with others.

Balance - the stress of caring for someone else can be diminished if you are able to ensure a balance in your life. do things for yourself every day: eat properly, exercise, sleep and take breaks when you need them. Don't neglect your own health - if you aren't feeling well, make the time to seek medical attention. Don't allow pressure from others or feelings of guilt to force you into doing something that you are not comfortable with. It is really okay to say 'no' if you can't or don't want to do something.

Whatever you do and however you do it, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all of our followers!

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Forget me not

Our regular followers will know that Alzheimer's is a subject I have written about several times and one that I have had some personal experience with as I had a grandmother whose decline from the disease, I witnessed first-hand. It's a sad disease on many fronts, but I think hardest for the family is seeing a person who they recognize but who bears no resemblance to the person they once knew. Harder still is the moment you realize that the person who has known you for your entire life, no longer recognizes you.

Almost daily, we read in the news about the 'silver tsunami' we will experience in the not too distant future and often, we read of predictions of the number of people who will succumb to dementia in the coming years. We can only hope that in rapid progress will be made in terms of treatment, maintenance and care of those who are unfortunate enough to develop a disease that robs them of their mind, spirit and the very essence of who they are. 

It is not often that I post other people's work but, I came across a poem the other day that reminded me of my grandmother and all of the other seniors and their families that I have known over the years shared similar stories. Given our followers and the forum that this blog is, I decided it would be something worth sharing with all of you. My thanks to Joann Snow Duncanson who so eloquently has been able to say what so many families feel.

Two Mothers Remembered
by Joann Snow Duncanson
I had two Mothers – two Mothers I claim
Two different people, yet with the same name.
Two separate women, diverse by design,
But I loved them both because they were mine.
The first was the Mother who carried me here,
Gave birth and nurtured and launched my career.
She was the one whose features I bear,
Complete with the facial expressions I wear.
She gave me her love, which follows me yet,
Along with the examples in life that she set.
As I got older, she somehow younger grew,
And we’d laugh as just Mothers and daughters should do.
But then came the time that her mind clouded so,
And I sensed that the Mother I knew would soon go.
So quickly she changed and turned into the other,
A stranger who dressed in the clothes of my Mother.
Oh, she looked the same, at least at arm’s length,
But now she was the child and I was her strength.
We’d come full circle, we women three,
My Mother the first, the second and me.
And if my own children should come to a day,
When a new Mother comes and the old goes away,
I’d ask of them nothing that I didn’t do.
Love both of your Mothers as both have loved you.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Multi-generational Living

As our population is aging, communities are having to come up with different models for care. It is always interesting to hear of new ideas and twists on older ones. There was a news piece today about a retirement home in the US where music students live among the seniors in the community. The students interact with and entertain the senior residents and in many ways seem to have become 'extended family' to each other. The arrangement is mutually beneficial despite initial concerns about housing two extreme age groups with different lifestyles and needs. In Toronto, several years ago, there was a home that did something similar by renting out rooms to students from local post-secondary schools many of whom were international. Perhaps a bit of a social experiment, it seems to be successful provided that the students are properly screened.

It reminds me a bit of a co-housing arrangement which originated in Denmark but has now spread to North America. They discovered the benefits of different generations living under one roof  many years ago. I suppose, before retirement homes and nursing homes, when extended families lived together this was known and acknowledged. Over time, as families have moved away from each other, we have lost the value of this sort of an arrangement. I wonder if, as senior care evolves, more communities will embrace multi-generational living as an option.

This model has been shown to have tremendous benefits for all involved and may be a solution to some of the problems seniors face with housing, affordability, and care. Even in small numbers, it is nice to see people 'thinking outside the box' and at the same time, improving the quality of life for seniors and young people alike.

Monday, 2 November 2015

When is it time?

Relocating one's home - no matter what your age or situation - can be an extremely stressful task. For those who are aging and are experiencing decreasing independence, it can be overwheming and daunting to think about relocating from what in many cases is a lifelong home, to a new place. It is not surprising that for many seniors, this is a taboo subject even when others around them are concerned. There are situations where people knowingly live at risk because the thought of moving to a care setting is something they are completely opposed to. Yet, leaving it too long, often necessitates a sudden move, a crisis situation and limited options. Moving when one is still fairly independent often results in increased health and prolonged independence largely due to social, physical and mental stimulation in a healthy environment.
  So, when is it the right time to start talking and start looking? 
After years of experience and listening to hundreds of stories I think that, as uncomfortable as it may be at first, it is never too early to talk about what a loved one wants in terms of care and decision making if/when they become unable to remain independent. Much anxiety around relocation stems from pre- conceived notions of what a care setting is like. Visiting a few retirement homes and speaking to residents and staff often serves to shatter negative perceptions and gives 'food for thought' for the senior and their family. While completely well and independent seniors might be opposed to this, once there are health &/or cognitive issues and some form of care is required, the need to start looking at and discussing options becomes critical. Watching someone you care about live at risk is more difficult than taking the time to address concerns and problem solve. If this is a situation you are in, do take the time to research options - before time and circumstance takes you in a less desirable direction.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Life Stories

I am always fascinated by 'life stories'. I wonder, does our story choose us or do we choose it?

I was privileged yesterday to participate as a judge in a Senior of the Year contest sponsored by a local community centre held through a neighbouring retirement home. As a judge I was sent several nominations which I was asked to read through and choose from. There were 3 other judges that did the same. I have to say it was a difficult choice and all entries really deserved recognition. The winning senior was a holocaust survivor. As a young girl, her family was taken from her; as a senior, many years later, she is able to reflect on her past and inspire those around her. One can only imagine her pain of the past but despite it, she has thrived and triumphed.

Several months ago, I participated in a friendship contest as well again as a judge. Here too, seniors told their stories of friendship - many that were decades long and all were inspiring. For most people, without opportunities like these, their remarkable stories would be untold or reserved only for the immediate family that cared to ask.

It would be wonderful to see a future project where life stories or special moments of seniors are put together into a book of sorts. Sometimes, it only takes a paragraph or two, to tell a story that has meaning to many and conveys life lessons we can all learn from. So, I would like to throw out a challenge - to those of you who work with seniors - ask them to participate, tell a story from their life that holds meaning to them. Create something with it and share it among your community. If you have seniors in your life, you can do the same. Ask them to tell you a story or small stories that can be written down and passed along to generations. So much can be learned from those who have lived their lives before us; it only takes a little effort to find a way to share their knowledge.

If you wish to share any stories with us, we will do our best to incorporate them into our regular blogs as well. Just send them to our account!

Friday, 9 October 2015

Giving Thanks

In the spirit of the season, I have been thinking about the concept of 'being thankful for what we have'. In our fast-paced world where there are never enough hours in the day, taking the time to recognize our fortune is a luxury few recognize. The daily news is filled with stories of misfortune - by birth or accident - that give us all pause. Yet, how many people think in terms of themselves and  what they have that others do not? We all know people who  have seemingly everything but are eternally complaining or  unhappy. Perhaps it's because we live in such a rich and materialistic society that so many of us have 'First World Problems' but never quite recognize that their problems only exist because of how fortunate they actually are.

It seems rare these days to come across someone who knows that life is about the people you hold dear, not things you own. Unfortunately, we are inundated with messages through the media about 'must have' items which will lead to happiness and this in many ways influences what we strive for. 
Often it takes a tragic event, or significant illness, that give people an understanding of what truly is important in life. Having worked in a hospital for many years, often with very ill or dying people, this reality became quite clear to me many years ago but I too, have been known to take for granted my good fortune. 

For many, the concept of 'thanksgiving' is something they celebrate annually because the calendar tells them to but really isn't it something we should be doing far more regularly....... How often do you 'give thanks' for what you have, or even just stop for a moment to recognize it? No need for a big dinner to do it either. The world is full of sadness and tragedy but those who have the good fortune to be healthy, have others who love them and who they love, have a roof over their head and food to eat, are truly blessed. At the end of it all, we all end up in the same place. It's what you do with your time on earth, who you touch, who and how much you love, not what you acquire, that is most important.

Friday, 25 September 2015

What's it like inside?

On a fairly regular basis, I speak with seniors and their families about different care options. It's surprising how many people have no idea or have the wrong impression, of what a retirement home is like. Many assume that retirement homes are the same as  long-term care homes - which they most definitely is not! Others think you have to need all sorts of care to get into them. Many of these people who make these incorrect assumptions have never walked into a retirement home and often are basing their beliefs on something someone else told them or information from years gone by.

As someone who has visited many, many homes over the years, I have to say that most people would be very pleasantly surprised if they went for a visit. Newer homes look more like a hotel or a cruise ship on land than an institution. Many have 'chef-prepared' meals and varied menus. Some have swimming pools and spas on site. Most have gyms and a full activity calendar. The healthier a person is when the enter, the more there will be to do. Even older homes have a lot to offer as many have renovated to keep up with the changes in the industry. While cost might be a factor for some, for those who have an existing property that they can sell, they may find the cost involved is equal to or less than what they were paying to live in their own homes, especially if they had services and assistance coming into the home.

My advice to everyone considering relocation is to visit a few retirement homes to see what they have to offer. If your health is a bit of an issue you may be best to explore options while you are still able - waiting until a crisis may limit your choices and create a situation where you only have the option of long-term care. We find that with many people, going into a retirement home when they are still relatively healthy, keeps them healthy longer and for many, allows them to avoid long-term care entirely.

Many retirement homes have events open to the public where you can see a bit of the home as well. If you want to see more, they will all be pleased to take you for a tour. If you think it might be a place you want to live in, ask about a trial stay for a few days to see what it's really like in a retirement home - you might be quite pleasantly surprised!

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Nursing Homes in the News

Yesterday's paper. Front page news. Nursing homes and bedsores. Yet again, nursing homes in the news. And not in a good way. I don't think good experiences are ever reported. Not that they don't happen; I have heard a few positive stories over the years - but good news doesn't sell papers.

The stories of two people were disturbing to say the least. One woman dying of her sores, another ending up hospitalized because of them. Both nursing homes were interviewed and both said that changes had been made since the incidents to decrease the chance of it happening again. These are two homes - what about the hundreds of others province-wide? While our government is doing better with inspections and reports, apparently it is not enough. The reality is, even if they go in once a year or even more frequently, ultimately it all comes down to trust that when they are not there, the home performs and provides care as they should as if an inspector was sitting there 24/7. The government can create standards galore but, the reality is, unless the staff in the homes follow them to the letter, incidents like those detailed in our paper yesterday, will keep happening.

It highlights the importance of families staying involved and understanding that even when a relative is moved to a care setting, they are still 'care givers' and need to be involved and advocate the minute they have concerns. It is unfortunate that entrusting someone you love to an institution dedicated to providing care for the elderly, does not guarantee good care. But it is a reality right now. There are some wonderful places that provide excellent care; but there are others that simply do not or can do better.  While relocating someone to a care home can relieve pressure on a family and provide necessary care, there will always be situations when family involvement is important and necessary. Do keep this in mind if you are in the process of searching for alternate care for a loved one or if you have someone you care about in a home.

Be present. Ask Questions. Watch, Look and Listen. Visit at different times a day and on different days. Stay involved. Advocate for the person who cannot do it for themselves. If you have concerns, contact administration immediately.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Dementia Village

It's interesting to look at how other countries look after their elderly. I am fascinated by places that 'go the extra mile' and customize situations to meet individual needs in a unique way. I recently saw a  news piece on something called Dementia Village in Amsterdam. It is a true 'village' for people with dementia, without an institutional feel. There is a grocery store, hairdresser, restaurant and other amenities that  motivate residents to stay active and participate in life. There is a huge staff to resident ratio and all are trained to manage dementia. The living space is very home like and people are grouped with others who share similar interests. It is an absolutely phenomenal approach to Alzheimer's care and one that should very much be used as an example around the world.

In Ontario there are some retirement homes that have memory floors for people with dementia. They will often have items that people with short term memory loss can interact with. Things like a baby carriage and dolls. I have seen women residents carry around the dolls and push the carriages recalling a time when they had young children. There may be rooms with a calming environment to help people cope with agitation that is sometimes present. This however is not something I have seen in Long-Term Care where the majority of people with dementia end up. Homes that have these special customized floors are often private settings where the cost can be substantial so many on basic pensions cannot access the care and are left with the only other option - nursing homes.

With our growing population of seniors, it is quite obvious that we will also have a growing population of people with cognitive impairment. We, as a society, need to find innovative ways to provide care in the coming years or we may end up with many falling through the cracks in terrible living situations. Easier said than done though. Something like this would involved tremendous planning and money and most importantly, buy-in from government bodies willing to look at options for meeting the needs of the vulnerable in our society.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Fountain of Youth

Today I read a news piece about a woman who just turned 105! Best of all she is well and volunteers at her local hospital. Despite having good genes - likely a prerequisite to living so long and healthy - it seems to me that she has somehow figured the secret to staying 'young' and vibrant.

Whenever you hear about people reaching 100 or more, the question the interviewer always asks is: what is your secret to longevity? The most common answer given seems to always have to do with healthy living (though sometimes its 'a drink a day') but,  maybe it's more than that. Perhaps it's a mix of many things - one part genes for sure, one part healthy living, one part healthy attitude and probably several other factors as well. But assuming things we can't control - like our genes - what makes the difference between ageing well and not ageing well?

Ageing is inevitable and is far better than the alternative, but it seems like many are searching for the 'fountain of youth'. Maybe that fountain is in our heads........ What keeps you young and what makes you feel old? Is it true that you are only as old as you feel? Does an ageing body always necessitate an ageing attitude?

I met someone recently who never tells anyone her birth year - she says it creates restrictions on what she can do if people know her age! She doesn't feel her age and with her attitude, simply doesn't look her age either.

I think that seniors of today are in fact 'younger'  in spirit and likely healthier than seniors of the past - many work well past traditional retirement or volunteer for many years after retirement. Many travel and have hobbies. Many exercise and worry about healthy eating. They aren't defining their abilities by the number on their birth certificate. It's about attitude, feeling vibrant and useful and a willingness to learn. Could this be the real fountain of youth?

Friday, 7 August 2015

Elder Orphans

In my years as a hospital social worker, some of the most heartbreaking cases involved people who did not have families. It was especially difficult if demenita and relocation was involved. The memory of some will stay with me forever. Those without families are by necessity, fiercely independent and understandably often have trouble accepting  and organizing help.

So, it is with great interest that I read articles about 'Elder Orphans' of the future. This is a term now used for people without children in their later years. It is expected that anywhere from 20 - 25% of our current boomers will be in this category when they reach old age. Family seem to provide a great deal of 'caregiving' in studies that are done - I read one that said in the USA its is approximated that 70% of caregiving is done by families currently. With less people having children and less children per family, the issue of caregiving is sure to impact the seniors of the future in a big way.

That being said, all social workers have encountered families that are either unable, unwilling or incapable of helping with caregiving and decision making so having children is not a guarantee that you will not encounter issues in the future.

So, I wonder - how can we ensure that we are not among the group that end up relying on strangers to make decisions for us and arrange our care? I don't really know if there is a clear answer yet. There is nothing like human contact and concern from someone who knows and loves you.  I suppose planning ahead is the key to reducing the chances of having to rely on 'the government' or strangers for care. Creativity and innovation in terms of sharing & providing care might become a necessity. My advice to everyone: plan for old age whether or not you have children. This would apply to finances as well as care. Are there people you trust that you would give your Powers of Attorney to? Consider Long Term Care Insurance if you are concerned that you won't be able to afford care in your old age. As you get older but are still healthy, look into non-traditional seniors housing - in the next 20 years I am certain that we will see a rise in co-housing structures, innovative retirement care and different care at home models. It's never a good idea to wait for a crisis. The healthier you are when you make decisions, the more likely you will have choice and can guide your own destiny.

Friday, 24 July 2015


There was an unusual obituary in last weekends paper. It was funny, memorable, honest and a great tribute to a very much loved lady who died at 94 and had many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to mourn her loss. It created a stir on social media and as a result, an article about it was written a couple of days later. Instead of simply mourning her loss and elevating her to the status of saint with this obituary, as most obits do, her family celebrated her life and acknowledged both her faults and her humanity. It was indeed a lovely tribute.

And it got me thinking about legacies and what we leave behind. I think as we go through life most people don't put great pains into trying to figure out how they can leave a lasting legacy behind for their families. More often people seem to think in terms of money or possessions rather than the qualities they want to be remembered for. I wonder how many people go through life wanting to leave behind a better world when they are gone. And how many never think in terms of how they will be remembered.

This whole topic reminds me of the poem called 'The Dash' by Linda Ellis  - (the line between one's birth and death on their tombstone) "... For that dash represents all that they spent alive on earth. And now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth. For it matters not, how much we own, the cars...the house...the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash..." (The full poem can be found at

One poem says it all so well - in our fast paced materialistic world, sometimes we need to be reminded that life is not about possessions - its about relationships and people. A lasting legacy isn't about getting your name on a wall that strangers can read, its about the memories you leave your family with and 'how you spend your dash'. 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Ethics of Ageism

There is a weekend column in our local paper that I occasionally glance at. It has to do with ethics. People write in a question and the journalist gives them a response based on what he has determined is ethical. This week's column caught my attention because it was about a senior. A daughter of a very elderly woman wrote in because her mother was refusing to eat and she wondered if it was okay to leave her to eat tea and biscuits as she requests or if she should be more aggressive in attempting to get her to eat. The answer from the columnist's perspective was that she didn't have any joy in life any more and perhaps had a change in taste buds so wanted to die a natural death. His advise - keep her hydrated but don't try to force food.

I have to say this response disturbed me considerably. At no point did the person writing in or the person responding, talk about having a conversation with the mother. From the letter it did not appear that the daughter had asked her mother why she had chosen not to eat or explored the issue with her doctor. Nor was this even suggested to her. There was no indication of dementia or mental health issues. The response was paternalistic and ageist to say the least and reminded me of a woman I knew whose family put her in a retirement home of their choosing where she did not like the food. They claimed she was fussy and it really wasn't anything to be concerned about until she died a couple of years later and they revealed that she had lost a considerable amount of weight because of the food issue and had wasted away.

I am not a doctor or an ethicist but I don't believe people who are mentally competent wish to starve themselves to death. I believe that food is one of the few pleasures we have for our entire lives and as such, if someone is refusing food there must be a reason and it should be explored.  First and foremost, someone should ask her why. If she doesn't know, then a doctor's visit is in order. I can only imagine the guilt the daughter would feel watching her mother starve to death - why she would write to a newspaper instead of talking to a medical professional is beyond me but clearly there is more to this story than that letter conveyed. Regardless of someone's age, it is neglect to not investigate an issue of not eating. The response to the daughter's letter was at the very least irresponsible and most definitely not ethical.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Retirement Cruising

Yet again the "it's cheaper to live on a cruise ship than a retirement home" email hit my inbox. I have seen it several times over the last few years and usually just send it to my trash box however, this time I decided it was worth giving it some thought... The basis of this circulating text is that the cost of living in a retirement home is so great, that its cheaper to pack your bags and cruise the world in comfort and style.

I need to confess that I love cruising for many reasons - something for everyone, someone else does the cooking, lots of entertainment and you see a different place almost every day. But would I love it if it were my life instead of a vacation? And what if I needed medical assistance or physical help? Would I miss having long-standing relationships? Beyond the staff, there would be no one the same from one week to the next. Would I miss my family and friends and being able to see them whenever I want? Would I go 'stir crazy' in the small cabin for an extended period of time? Besides financial implications, is it really a viable option for one's retirement?

Retirement homes give you many of the same things on land including social activity & meal preparation. But, there is the added benefit of medical attention, assistance with care, and access to family and friends. Suite sizes vary and for those with extra income, there are options of larger spaces and more than one bedroom and bathroom. The only prohibitive factor for some may be the cost. Though if you compare it to living on a cruise ship, the difference may be negligible if at all. In fact, I have heard people describe a retirement home as a 'cruise  ship on land'.

Of course, for most, there is no place like home and when possible every effort should be made to allow someone to stay in their home, albeit with assistance if required. Failing that, retirement homes are a good option which often keeps people healthier for much longer because of the regular and nutritious meals, exercise programs and social interaction. As tempting as an idea cruising into retirement is, it's likely the concept rather than the reality that is appealing.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Senior Drivers

The other day I was driving on the highway when the car in front of me slowed down to a dangerously low speed. Fortunately, I saw his brake light a fair distance away and was able to slow my pace and overtake him, averting an accident. As I turned to see who was driving - as we so often do when we are ticked at the driver beside us - I noticed a very elderly man in the drivers' seat. It got me thinking about older drivers who may not realize that they are unsafe on the road. On the one hand I completely understand a senior or anyone really, who does not want to give up that aspect of their independence - especially if it is their lifeline to getting out of the house and doing things for themselves. On the other hand, I worry about the lives that are put at risk by people who may not recognize what a lethal weapon a car is....

I do believe that when a person - senior or otherwise - is unsafe on the road and doesn't recognize or acknowledge it - the responsibility to correct the problem lies with family and/or the family doctor. That being said, as with so many issues around care and diminishing independence, children often have tremendous difficulty broaching the subject fearing a negative reaction. However, not talking about it does not make the problem go away. The risks of not dealing with it far outweigh any concerns one should have with addressing it. There are ways one can approach it that make it easier for the senior to acknowledge.

As with conversations children have to have with their parents about needing care, I think that doing your homework before the discussion is invaluable. Find out the process for getting the person tested, speak with the family doctor about concerns and find out options for public transport or community resources for driving and shopping for seniors in the area. If you can organize others to take them on their errands, it might ease some of their concerns about losing their independence. There is no easy way to tell someone you want to take away their car keys but, there are ways to help them understand that it is necessary for their safety and that of other drivers on the road.

Friday, 12 June 2015

How does your nursing home or hospital compare?

Do you ever wonder how your local hospital or nursing home, compares to others in your province or even in Canada? When people complain about our health care system, whether it's a hospital or other institution, do you wonder if their experience is the norm or a unique incident? There is some interesting news this week which will shed some light on this. The Canadian Institute for Health Information  has launched an online tool allowing people to type in a nursing home name or hospital and see how it compares in terms of safety and the quality of care to others (currently, not all provinces have nursing homes listed). Until now, the only thing one could review was inspection reports done by the province.

This is new transparency as the data was never something the public had such easy access to. If anything, it may make these institutions feel a bit more accountable to the general public and be aware of how their actions or inactions can directly impact patient satisfaction and choice. That being said, there are more situations than one would realize, where choice or significant choice, is not an option. Often people end up in a hospital because that is where an ambulance takes you or where your doctor has privileges. And, one may get to choose a list of nursing homes however, that may be limited by where your family lives or other factors. As well, if you are waiting in a hospital for a bed, you may have to accept a place that is not your first, second or even third choice.

However, while there are clearly limits to how this tool can help, at the outset I can see only positives, from the perspective of families and patients. This will clearly give people more information to work with. The more information you have, the better questions you can ask and the more prepared people will be if they do need a specific sort of care. That being said, there are limits to what an online tool can do and there may be variations and exceptions based on the population in a certain setting. Web tools should never replace a personal visit and tour and an opportunity to ask relevant questions and observe an environment and other residents. The tool is new and no doubt, will expand over time but should only be viewed as a piece of a puzzle; a tool to help in your research. Especially in terms of nursing home care, research is so very necessary and important to ensure good care for those who may be too frail to choose or advocate for themselves.

To find how your hospital or nursing home rates visit:

To view inspection reports of Ontario nursing homes visit:

Monday, 1 June 2015

Happy Seniors' Month!

June is Seniors' Month in Ontario. Every year Ontario's Seniors' Secretariat unveils a theme for the month - this year's is 'Vibrant Seniors, Vibrant Communities'. There are events being held across the province celebrating seniors and their contribution to our country. With the rise in the use of social media, the opportunity to promote events has increased significantly. Still, I am sure there are people who are unaware of this month's significance and the celebrations being held. If you are a senior or know one who would like to attend an event, you might want to have a look at the website for the Ontario Seniors Secretariat or check with your local seniors agency to find out what they are planning.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Changes to Homecare in Ontario

It is no secret that many are frustrated with government funded home care services citing issues with waiting lists, limited hours and service provision. So much so that there was a government-commissioned report on the subject that was released in the early part of 2015. At long last our province is attempting to assist with these issues and has announced some interesting changes that they are piloting. This is interesting news for elderly or almost elderly Ontarians and I for one, will be anxious to see the results. In a nutshell they are planning on infusing money into the system ($750 million over 3 years) and allowing 'self-directed funding' for home care provision. The theory is that people can then use their allotment to hire the care they most need and the care providers they want to work with.

In theory, this seems like a plan that might alleviate wait lists and allow for better service to recipients but until its properly tested, the glitches will not be known. I wonder how many new home care agencies will pop up with the promise of new business, and how many good agencies will be challenged by the loss of home care contracts. I also wonder if its an attempt for the government to 'wash their hands' of the problems by taking away their responsibility to fix what is broken and simply give responsibility for it to overtaxed families or seniors who may not have the wherewithal to organize their own care properly or be easily subjected to financial abuse.

There is promise of a model of 'bundled care' for those discharged from hospital so there is continuity between hospital and home, but one wonders how well orchestrated that will be and if staffing and funding to hospitals will be increased in a direct way to accommodate this change properly.

Will the money they are putting into this plan be enough to sustain people who are on a limited income and require assistance at home? What will happen if they use up their funding and still need care but can't afford to pay for it? Will it decrease the pressure on the long-term care system or make it worse?

By no means do I want to be critical before such a plan has gotten off the ground. I think its a good thing that money is being infused into the system earmarked for home care. And I think its good that they recognize that the system we have now is broken and not sustainable. They are clearly finding ways to think 'outside the box'. But I also worry that this system will only work for a few rather than the majority and that it's only a small piece of the puzzle. We still need our government to look at funding more than simply long-term care and, at innovative ways to care for our ageing population beyond what currently exists.

I suppose everything takes time. We will simply have to wait and see what the pilot projects report back and hope that the kinks are ironed out well before it is rolled out in a big way.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Meaning of Life

Last week I saw an interesting news clip. It was about a lady in her 80's who volunteers in a children's cancer ward and gives out toys to young patients. She buys the toys with her own money and truly enjoys watching their joy as she hands them something that takes their mind off their treatment. She does this because years ago, she too had a sick child with cancer and from that experience understands the importance of helping a child and their parents, through a difficult illness.
I've been thinking about this since seeing this clip because lately, I've heard of other stories with a similar theme.

Parents in Ontario who lost a child to cancer a few months ago have set up swabbing events all across the province and beyond, to help match healthy donors with those in need of stem cell transplants.

This past Sunday we sadly heard about the death of Barbara Turnbull, a woman who made the news 32 years ago when she was shot during a burglary and became a paraplegic. She went on to become a very well respected journalist, and by all accounts, did not allow her situation to 'handicap' the person she was and wanted to be.

The legacy of a young boy, a young girl, a young woman and their something they all have in common. They did not allow their own tragedy to define them. They were all dealt a horrible hand in life but have taken what they have had no choice but to accept and turned it into something positive - something that will help others to perhaps not go through what they did and ease the pain of those who do.  

Sometimes small gestures can turn into something big. Sometimes giving someone hope or comfort or companionship makes a difference beyond anything one can imagine or expect. Everyone has their burdens to bear but what matters is how we deal with the cards in our deck. I think most people want to live a life of meaning - not everyone knows how - some people are fortunate to be able to choose; others have it chosen for them. Perhaps its not about how much time we have on this earth but what we do with that time and how we impact and touch others that is the true meaning of life.

I am reminded of a poem I read years ago called The Dash (written by Linda Ellis) It basically refers to 'the dash' on a tombstone between the date of birth and date of death. The dash is our legacy; the memories we leave behind in others....

" ...For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth....
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not how much we own;
The cars...the house...the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash....."

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Who will look after us when we are old?

I read an interesting article today - about how we need to prepare ourselves for the 'grey tsunami' that is coming. Anyone who has been to a hospital  lately, is acutely aware of staff shortages, wait times, bed shortages, many elderly, limited home supports through the government....and the list goes on. We are told that this will only get worse as our population ages and our public system becomes increasingly stressed because of it. This person suggested that families will have to 'pull their weight more' and alluded to the fact that as parents care for children, the reverse should be true when parents become dependent and in need of care and support. It reminded me of the familiar parent can care for 12 kids but 12 kids cannot care for one parent......

While I understand what the person who wrote the article is trying to say - we cannot rely on the government to provide 100% of the care required for our population - I also get the other side of the coin - there are many situations where it isn't safe or physically possible for a child to care for their parent. There are a host of reasons that this may be a family's reality from financial to physical or social issues that plague so many, that to make a blanket statement about such an expectation is not fair nor realistic. Every family situation is unique and has within it issues and limitations. A situation can be made much worse if someone takes on care that they are not capable of providing.

I think we have to recognize that we have a collective responsibility to care for our elderly and in order to cope with the influx of seniors in the next 20 years, we have to creatively find ways to offer care and support to people that may involved family members but also can and should involve communities and even businesses that cater to the senior market. Government involvement is a necessity for a whole host of reasons - and they are a vital part of the discussion. But, there is no easy solution to what is headed our way. There are far more questions than answers, far more reasons to be concerned than calm. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and hope for the best. We need to start talking and brainstorming about solutions - within our own families (how many people have that conversation before health issues necessitate it?), within our communities and with our governments - recognizing that the solution is with the many, not with the few.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Help your Aging Parents Come to Terms with Needing Support by Guest Blogger

Do you remember Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn’s moving portrayal of Norman and Ethel, an elderly couple trying to deal with the realities of getting old, in the wonderful movie On Golden Pond?

Norman:  “You want to know why I came back so fast? I got to the end of our lane. I couldn't remember where the old town road was. There was nothing familiar. Not one damn tree. Scared me half to death. That's why I came running back here to you. So I could see your pretty face and I could feel safe and that I was still me.”

Ethel: “You're safe, you old poop and you're definitely still you. After lunch, we'll take ourselves to the old town road. We've been there a thousand times. A thousand. And you'll remember it all. Listen to me, mister. You're my knight in shining armour. Don't you forget it.”

If you have loved ones who are in need of help in their daily living, the first thing you need to understand is that it is frightening for them as they feel they are starting to lose their very essence of themselves. It is important to listen and acknowledge their concerns.

It is best to start discussions early rather than waiting for a crisis. Consider who the loved one has traditionally listened to the most. Alternatively, consider engaging an objective professional.

Starting early allows you to start slow and be patient. It provides the opportunity to really dive into what your elderly loved ones are feeling so you can understand how best to help them.

The most common concerns are often about giving up driving and getting help around the house with shopping, cooking and cleaning – things they could always do for themselves. Reassure them that they can get help “on a trial basis”. Be sure to make it clear that basic support can help ensure they maintain their independence for as long as possible.

Visit for many more blog posts about seniors, caregiving and living as a family!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Zero Tolerance

Last weekend there was a W5 report about abuse in nursing homes - abuse by staff members toward residents.  Every now and then there are news shows or articles about abuse in nursing homes so on some level this is not new information. However, this is precisely why one would ask, why is this still happening?
One would think that with legislation and inspections - as well as professionals who presumably choose to work with seniors and recognize the need to provide good care  - the numbers would be few and far between. Instead, the report leaves one wondering how many more situations occur that are simply not reported.
Individually and as a society, we have zero tolerance of abuse. And when it comes to the most vulnerable, I would expect that we have a heightened sense of how wrong it is. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for a family to entrust someone else to care for their loved one. Taken one step further how horrible must it feel to know that you trusted the wrong person/people and for your mistake, a person you love has endured what no one should have to.
So what's the answer? We have laws. We have education. We have inspections - but - not daily, weekly or monthly. Unless an inspector sits in every home, day and night, we have to find a way to trust that appropriate care is being given. As easy as it is to jump to conclusions from these sort of stories, we can't be afraid to trust people to provide the care that they have been trained to provide.
As much as I wish we could 'trust blindly' - simply because a home has been given a license to operate, doesn't mean we don't have to do our due diligence when it comes to choosing a place and ensuring that good care is being provided. I believe that we can never research too much - the problem is, we often don't have the time to research because no one 'chooses' to be in a nursing home - it's usually circumstance that leads one to go to a home and often, by that point, there isn't the time to check into a multitude of homes. There may also be limits and restrictions in terms of the type and the number of homes you can choose.
So what can you do to limit the risk for the choices you make? Talk to people who have been through or are going through the process. Go on tours. Talk to people on those tours. Ask as many questions as you can on those tours. Observe the residents. Observe the home's surroundings. Talk to residents. Talk to families visiting the home. Talk to staff members. Find out how things operate. Find out any concerns. Read inspection reports. When your loved one gets into a home, make yourself known to the staff. Visit often. Get to know other families and residents. If your loved one is able to share information, ask them about their experience. Watch, look and listen when you are there.  Don't ignore your gut feelings or concerns. If there are any concerns at all, speak to the appropriate people right away. Educate yourself and those around you. Join or start a family council.
Ultimately, the more involved a caregiver you are, the more likely you will be able to be aware of issues as they arise.
By and large, I would like to believe that most homes are good, most caregivers do 'care' and do their utmost to provide good care however, often a few bad eggs spoil it for the many good and make us more aware of problems that can occur. Burying our heads in the sand or believing that it's someone else's responsibility or problem is simply not the answer. Looking out for each other, is.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Unsung Heros

Today is  "National Family Caregiver Day". Caregiving for a loved one whether through love or obligation or a bit of both is undeniably one of the most difficult 'jobs' on the planet and likely the most under-appreciated as well. has a post today indicating that "...working caregivers...represent 6.1 million Canadians juggling personal commitments, care duties and work responsibilities. Wow - staggering numbers that will only increase in coming years as our number of elderly grow. The more caregivers I speak with, the more I come to understand that as difficult as caring for someone else is, it can also be a tremendously rewarding experience for all parties. I think that until one experiences it, there is no true way to really understand the toll caregiving can take on a person, their relationships and their job. 

Another snippet from today "In 2011 alone, caregivers provided the economic value of $11 billion or about 230,000 full-time jobs. They also experience high levels of depression and other stress-related illnesses, further adding costs to the Canadian economy and health-care system." In some places, there is actually a monetary value placed on family caregiving with the award of income, small a sum as it usually is. Clearly, its not all about money though. The stress of caregiving cannot be underestimated and moving forward, it is crucial that our government, and our citizens find ways to acknowledge and support caregivers more so we can all reap the benefits of this important role now and in the future. 

Caregivers are truly unsung heros. So glad we have a special day to recognize them. So wish we will offer more. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

April Fools

The first of April. A day evoking fond memories for me this year, as it does every year. From when I was a small child, I had a tradition with my grandmother on this day. We would call each other to see who could "out prank" the other first. I have no idea how old I was, but the one that I remember vividly had to do with her calling me at  7:30 am. I think it was so early that I didn't realize what day it was. I ran to pick up the phone and all I heard was a radio. She had put the phone receiver next to the radio the minute she heard my voice. Before technology, call display and computers, the simplest jokes evoked fits of laughter on both ends of the line. Our annual antics continued well into my teens until her dementia robbed us of our ability to play.

It's funny how our memories evoke emotions and take us right back to a time so long ago as if no time has passed. I still love watching The Wizard of Oz, her favourite movie and one we watched whenever it was on TV -  before VCRs, DVDs and PVRs. It was a treat when it was on and we would make a date to watch it together though the flying monkeys terrified me. She was an avid cook and took great pleasure in feeding her family. Sometimes a simple smell or taste will remind me of something she cooked. And sometimes something happens and I think of how she would have reacted, enjoyed it, laughed or responded. When I close my eyes I can still see her laughing though it is well over 25 years since I actually heard her laugh. And on April 1 every year, I wake thinking of her.

I am fascinated watching my kids and my father create their own traditions on this day. The kids spend hours the night before trying to come up with some elaborate story they can weave. He anticipates their calls and plans his own 'low tech' prank. As I listen to them try and out do each other, I can't help but smile. The tradition continues for yet another  generation. How very special for all of them.

Monday, 23 March 2015

No Words

My mind has been occupied the past couple of days with thoughts of a tragedy that occurred in Brooklyn, NY over the weekend. A family with 8 children, lost 7 of them to a house fire. The mother and one other child are in critical condition and don't yet know how their world has changed forever. And a father is left to bury 7 kids age 5 to 16. An appliance was left on that malfunctioned and caused the house to go up in flames in the middle of the night. Only one smoke detector was found in the basement while the family slept upstairs. There are no words to help make sense of this. No words that can ever hope to comfort those who mourn this loss. No words to justify.

As with so many horrible tragedies, questions with no answers abound. Would smoke detectors on all the floors have prevented the tragedy? Would they have saved some, if not all lives?  Why were there not more smoke detectors in the house? How did the fire spread so fast trapping all of the children? How does a family and a community deal with so monumental a loss? How does a parent carry on? A sibling? Grandparents?

I suppose what makes it so difficult to comprehend is the preventable nature of it. And the size of the tragedy - though one death would be too many. All we can do is do what we can to prevent something like this from happening again. Check your smoke detectors & make sure you have enough. Talk to everyone you know and ask them if they have detectors and when they last checked them. If you have seniors in your life, take the initiative and check theirs. Check appliances. If they don't work properly or seem to be damaged in any way, get rid of them or fix them. Do the same for people in your life who can't do it for themselves.

Fire and Water. Both can be our friend but both can destroy and be unforgiving. We owe it to ourselves and those we love, to make sure we protect ourselves from their dangers.

Monday, 16 March 2015


Last week I gave a lecture to a group of people who, although 'middle aged' seemed to have not given much thought to what their retirement might look like. I think, we all have a vision of a perfect existence when we no longer need or want to work. We all would like to 'write our future' and know that we will live healthy and active, able to travel with no financial or health concerns until one day we close our eyes and simply don't wake up. The hope is that the 'one day' that happens will be very far in the distant future when like a machine, our body simply stops working. I once had a professor who asked us to write our own obituaries - that was the scenario most of us imagined but we were quickly told, it was a rare occurrence.

After discussing some real life scenarios, and the realities around cost factors and possible care needs, I think many in the group were busy assessing their own life situation. In doing these sorts of lectures, I always try to balance reality with practicality while not creating hysteria. No one knows what their future holds however, to bury our heads in the sand and not think about what may be, only serves to potentially delay conversations and as a result, reduce options available to us if we do need care or alternate accommodation in the future.

We all know people who died young and were not able to enjoy retirement; and others who lived to a ripe old age and were grateful for savings and investments. How do you know which you will be? Do we 'throw caution to the wind' and live our lives to the fullest not worrying about retirement or do we scrimp and save when we are working to ensure that we have enough money to live comfortably for 30 more years? There are no crystal balls. And so, I advocate a bit of both. I think its important to enjoy life while you are healthy. Travel, enjoy time with family and friends, work at something that gives you happiness and save a bit every month which over time, will add up to a nice nest egg that hopefully you will use in your lifetime. That, I think, is the balance to aim for. Even when the days seem to last forever, the years simply slip by. Balance is the key to no regrets,,,,,,, and a nice retirement.  

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A Night at the Movies

I recently saw the movie Still Alice. Its about a 50 year old well-educated woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. So, it got me thinking. About how many people I know who have been touched by this horrible disease. About former clients. About my grandmother. And about how it must feel for the person going through the disease progression knowing that their mind will likely go well before their body. I would imagine that it must be a very scary experience and a very lonely one. There were some interesting ethical questions as well; but Hollywood being what it is, doesn't dwell on them. Still it got me thinking. There were a couple of really interesting scenes in the movie - one where the main character gives a speech about having the disease; and the other when she tells her husband that it would be better if she had cancer because people 'wear ribbons and go on walks for you' or something to that effect. It alluded to the fact that there is still stigma around 'mental illnesses' that there isn't around other diseases.

I think, the more we hear about well-known personalities with dementias and mental illnesses and the more they speak out about it, the more normalized it will become and by extension, the more support those afflicted with it will feel, because it will be okay to talk about. I think these sorts of movies help things along - provided they get the publicity they should and people go to see them. Surprisingly, despite the recent Oscar win for the main character, the theatre was empty. I wondered if the subject matter scared people away or if it just had been in the theatres too long.

There are subjects that people simply try to avoid - or at least most people do - some are afraid of doing a Will, giving a Power of Attorney, talking about certain illnesses or pre-planning a funeral. Yet all of these things are so very important and so much a part of life. I used to think it had more to do with superstition than anything else but maybe its more about the discomfort these topics hold coupled with the fear of the inevitable, that has some people avoid conversations for as long as possible. The reality is, avoiding them doesn't mean they won't happen - it just means we won't be prepared when they happen. So maybe movies like Still Alice will get people talking - as sad a story as it is, for so many it isn't a 'story' but a part of life.....

Monday, 2 March 2015

Lessons from the Past

I read an article today about a woman who survived the Holocaust over 70 years ago. The article spoke of how she was a child during the war and had a special doll that she believes saved her from sure death. Apparently the doll 'told her' to run away from a place of safety where soon after, the children there were killed. She has had this doll with her for over 70 years and has now decided to donate it to a museum/archive of sorts so her story can live on.

It is interesting, to hear a survival story such as this. I would venture to guess, during such a time, there were many stories that were similar. That she attributed her surviving the war to an inanimate object may not be any different from people attributing their survival of any life/death experience to a 'vision of a dead relative'. How much of a role sheer luck played in any of these stories is unknown as is the number of people with similar stories who did not survive. Perhaps needing to 'believe' is the theme that ties these stories together.  I think, in the face of tragedy, we all look for answers - why something happened or why it didn't can often not be explained by logic and so, we reach for something more - for a sign of divine intervention and failing that, for a 'hero' who saved us.

I have seen several Holocaust memorials in different places; while they are all very emotional to visit, the one that always send shivers up my spine is the Children's Memorial at Yad VaShem in Jerusalem. Simple in its design, it is so very poignant in its message. It is a simple structure you walk through, a separate building to the main museum, with mirrors, candles and names of the dead announced in a never-ending loop over the PA system. It truly gives meaning to the reality of generations lost and lives cut short by such a terrible time in the world's history. One can only hope, that civilization learns lessons from the mistakes of the past and finds ways to peacefully ensure that it never happens again.

Over 70 years have passed. One day, in the not too distant future, the survivors will be gone and the history books and museums will be all that is left to teach us and remind us of all that was lost. The interviewer asked the woman with the doll, why she didn't give it to her children and grandchildren. Her answer had more to do with the best place to keep her story alive than anything else. While the legacy of the doll may have some immediate meaning to her family, in the end it will become family lore and be forgotten, watered down or embellished. But clearly, she sees the bigger picture; her story is not about one person's legacy to their family. It's about bravely telling they world about a terrible time when humanity was almost lost. It's about the one, and the many, stories of survival. It's about teaching the future generations. It's about 'Never Again'.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Lessons learned from tragedy

A year after that devastating fire in a Quebec seniors' home that killed 32 seniors, the coroner has made recommendations. The one that made the news: mandatory sprinklers. I am wondering why it took a year to come up with that recommendation?  Why did their government not immediately legislate something around sprinklers in the wake of the tragedy? And how long will it take to institute this and other recommendations across the province of Quebec?

This is not the first time that fire in a seniors residence caused the loss of life. The 2009 fire in an Orillia home resulted in legislation in Ontario and as of 2014, automatic sprinklers are mandatory in all retirement homes. I suppose because senior care is under each province, legislation specific to retirement homes and long-term care, depends on the province and it seems, depends on what each learns from their own mistakes and tragedies. I am wondering why there are some things that are just not National and why, when avoidable deaths occur, we don't do things to prevent more of them, even if the disaster happened in another part of Canada. There are always more questions than answers when I read news items like this and in fairness, there may be far more to this and the need to go through an inquest in order to create necessary legislation, then the general public realizes.

I am very glad that there were significant lessons learned from such a horrible ordeal - I only wish so many didn't have to die, in order to protect others in the future. For the families and community that lost loved ones, I am certain that inquest findings do not lessen their grief . And I wonder how many other tragedies have to occur before every province recognizes that we as a country, have to do a better job of protecting our seniors.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Better Late than Never

Last week, a group of men, were finally given the recognition they deserved. The USA awarded a Congressional Gold Medal to a group of vets known as the 'Black Devils' or the Devil's Brigade. They were a joint American-Canadian team who assisted in liberating Europe and were the precursor to the Special Forces Units that came to be in both countries years later. Originally 1,800 men, very few are left now  - and about 50 in total attended a ceremony in Washington on February 2, 2015.

This story fascinated me for a couple of reasons; one of the men honoured is the father of a long-time friend. I have known him most of my life but it never crossed my mind that he was quite literally, a war hero. In fact, until I started reading the articles about this group and their award, I had no idea what his role was in the war. Secondly, the story of this group of young men, who used 'unconventional' tactics, to help win the war under cover of darkness is frankly amazing. They had the ability to to create fear in the Germans and have been the subject of movies and books.

Seventy years after war's end, there are 46 Canadian vets left who were part of that elite group. It's a shame that it took this many years for the American government to honour these men - though at the very least it was done while some were able to feel that their efforts were recognized and appreciated. The Canadian government bestowed their award a few years ago.

Part of the ceremony was aired live and I was glad to be able to witness this special piece of history. I think those of us in North America often take our freedoms for granted. Most of us are very far removed from war and what occurred 70 years ago. If not for the brave people who were willing to risk their lives, (and in many cases, lose their lives) at that terrible time in history, the world would be a very different place than it is today.

Thank you Devil's Brigade. Your award was most well-deserved and you have forged a place in history that will not be forgotten.

Friday, 6 February 2015

February - All About Hearts

February is here - and I'm not quite sure where January went. Anyway, besides snow, thanks to Hallmark, February is always associated with matters of the heart. Smartly, someone clued into this and also made the disease of February 'Heart Disease'. 

I already know about Valentines Day (though I am a bit confused why you would by a card for 'Baby's First Valentine's Day' or cards from your dog or cat and, to your dog or cat) so I decided to do some reading on Heart Month. It seems that everyone I know, knows someone with a heart issue so it's not surprising that "nine in 10 Canadians over the age of 20 have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Four in 10 have three or more risk factors."  and  "More than 1.4 million Canadians have heart disease. It is also one of the leading causes of death in Canada, claiming more than 33,600 lives per year." (from: With the growing societal concerns about obesity in children these numbers will only get worse unless we find ways to curb the risks people take with their own health. The impact of this on individuals, families, employers and our health system will be significant if it isn't already. 

So what can we do to make things better? How can we decrease our chances of becoming a statistic of this growing concern. Here's the thing - this is one disease that we might have a bit of control over - unlike others that strike regardless of what we try to do to stay healthy. And while doing all the right things may not prevent us from getting some form of the disease, it may assist in prolonging our healthy years and allow us to be a more viable candidate for treatment in the event that we can't escape a hereditary predisposition to it. If we ever hope to change the statistics we need to start by looking at risk factors that we can change. Smoking - this is a 'no brainer' - seriously, what good ever comes from smoking? Diabetes - some people are predisposed to this, while others develop it later in life for various reasons - one of those reasons is related to yet another risk factor - obesity. If we can ensure a healthy diet with some exercise, we not only can reduce our chances of heart disease, but also of other illnesses including diabetes which itself leads to a slippery slope of other potential issues. High Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure might also be hereditary and if it is, early detection and intervention would be the key to reducing risk. However, things like a poor diet and lack of exercise can also contribute to it. So again, it may be an issue of lifestyle that helps reduce the risk for some. And then there is stress. Something we all have to a certain degree but some of us handle it better than others. I suppose the key here is knowing how to decrease stress levels and taking the time to de-stress. Much easier said than done. I suppose most important factors impacting change are an awareness and then a desire to stay healthy. Ultimately, eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, staying social, not smoking, going to your doctor for regular check ups and taking breaks from stress and work will all contribute to a healthier life not only by reducing heart disease risks but also through its positive impact on a host of other illnesses for which the risk factors are the same. We can only hope that the 'healthy lifestyle' message spreads and is adopted by our population soon - before our health care system cracks under the pressure of chronic preventable diseases. 

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Musings about Multi-Generational Communities

I was sent an article recently about a community in the Netherlands where young people live in a retirement home alongside seniors rent free, in exchange for volunteering their time with the residents (

It is an interesting concept that in fact benefits seniors and young people alike, but I wonder if its something that would work everywhere....... Often we find that what works in one part of the world does not work everywhere. Culture plays a key role in this but so does economic implications and perceptions of both age groups and their perceived value to the other party. I wonder about our North American culture with less extended families living together and the culture of 'ageism' that we sometimes witness, how open our youth would be to live and volunteer among so many seniors in a retirement home. I wonder how 'patient' they will be and how open to understanding cognitive, hearing and even visual issues seniors often have. And I wonder how open our seniors would be to having young people living in the same setting. It's one thing to have your kids or grandkids visit; quite another to have them living with you!

I think both groups can learn so much from each other. I also think we need to find innovative ways to care for our seniors of the future given the increasing number we are anticipating in the next 20 years, many with limited income. There are multi-generational settings (the co-housing concept) throughout Europe and to a much lesser degree in parts of the USA and Canada but it seems it is a far easier 'sell' in Europe than here . Most of what we see in terms of this in North America are co-housing units with people in similar age groups as opposed to multi-generational. As a model for 'care & support of well seniors' , I wonder if it would be something people would be in favour of in this part of the world?  From the perspective of the retirement home operator, the costs of running a home is immense and I wonder how willing most would be to give rooms for 'free' to young adults with the promise of volunteer work. It makes for an interesting concept and would be a viable 'experiment' to try out but what are the implications  from a legal, social and economic perspective.

I am sure, there will be all sorts of ideas that will start surfacing in the next few years - some will be great, others less so. I think this idea is in fact a great one, but how viable it is in our part of the world is a separate issue.  It is possible that the time simply is not right for this 'forward thinking' concept; maybe 10 or 20 years from now we will progress enough to be able to 'think outside the box' when it comes to caring for our seniors.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Caregiver Stress

An article in yesterday's paper caught my attention as do most things related to seniors. Apparently there is a report published recently by the 'Mental Health Commission of Canada' that caregiving is very stressful and can result in mental health issues. I have to admit that I am a bit surprised that a report was needed to tell us this. Maybe I am simply more aware of issues related to caregiving than those in the general population, but it seems rather intuitive that providing care for someone with a long-term illness, regardless of the age of the person receiving care, would be tremendously stressful on the person giving the care. And stress can lead easily to mental health issues - as well as physical health issues and in some cases, physical abuse of the the recipient of care. While more than just caregiving was dealt with in the document (it looked at mental health issues in general across the country), it is a good thing for caregivers in Canada that a formal document finally acknowledges what so many of us know to be true.

The problem with reports though, is often they are written and then forgotten with nothing substantial coming from them in the form of changes to our system. I suppose now the challenge is to figure out what we do with this information and how we support at risk people in a more constructive way. In recent years there seems to be less secrecy around mental health issues in general. As a 'hidden' often stigmatized illness for many, as a society we certainly have not given it the same acknowledgement as we do physical illnesses or disabilities yet on some level the toll it takes on affected individuals, their loved ones, our health care system and our economy can be tremendous and in some circumstances, far greater than an acknowledge physical problem.

Given our ageing population, the impact of the physical and mental toll caregiving takes, will be on the rise if we don't find a way to support people in this most difficult and demanding task. It is my hope that health professionals and others will take the time to increase their understanding of the issues and look at ways to assist caregivers in decreasing their stress levels and identifying when situations become toxic. It is only through acknowledgement and understanding that we can ever hope to lessen the burden of any mental health issue but also, of caregiving in general.

For additional information on caregiver stress have a look at the articleWorking Caregivers - Balance or Burn Out?

Friday, 16 January 2015


A friend of mine recently sent me an interesting email about female friendships and reading it reaffirmed what I have always know but often wondered if others thought the same. I knew my friend wasn't the author so I took to the internet to try to find out where it came from. I found several instances of the identical content in electronic copies of bulletins and newsletters but since some gave no credit to the person who started it all, and others that did give credit all had different names, I decided that it was safest to quote it from one of the sources directly ........ I can reword it but frankly, I don't see the point - it doesn't need fixing and I don't want to lose the value of what is in the original.
So here it is.

Would love to hear from our readers - do you agree or not?

They Teach It at Stanford, by Sharon Rose
from the March 2011 newsletter of The Business & Professional Women of Nevada County
In an evening class at Stanford, the last lecture was on the mind-body connection – the relationship between stress and disease. The speaker (head of psychiatry at Stanford) said, among other things, that one of the best  things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends. At first everyone laughed, but he was serious.
Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences. Physically this quality “girlfriend time” helps us to create more serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well-being.  Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities. They rarely sit down with a buddy and talk about how they feel about certain things or how their personal lives are going. Jobs? Yes. Sports? Yes.  Cars? Yes. Fishing, hunting, golf? Yes. But their feelings?  Rarely. 
Women do it all of the time. We share from our souls with our sisters/mothers, and evidently that is very good for our health.  He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym.
There’s a tendency to think that when we are “exercising” we are doing  something good for our bodies, but when we are hanging out with friends,  we are wasting our time and should be more productively engaged – not  true. In fact, he said that failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking! So every time you hang out to schmooze with a gal pal, just pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for doing something good for your health! We are indeed very, very lucky.  Sooooo. let’s toast to our friendship with our girlfriends. Evidently it’s very good for our health.


Monday, 12 January 2015

Hot off the Presses!

Our new 18th edition is out! And we can finally breathe a sigh of relief. No matter how many times we proof and reproof the draft copies (and usually its in the range of 5 to 6 times in a two month period), I always worry that I have missed something or that there will be a major problem with production. It's not until I see the very final printed version, that I stop worrying. So, once again, I worried for the better part of a month between the time that it went to the printer and I saw it. It turned out amazing! We changed things up a bit slightly this year and I am more than happy that we did so. We are now in the process of getting it out to our 'subscribers' and advertisers....... Our CD version is also a bit different this year in that we have incorporated two additional publications into it as well as many links to our various social media feeds. We are certain that both versions will be much appreciated by our users! And before long, we will have to start working on our 19th book!

For those of our users that would like a new book, please go to our online store and have a look at the process for ordering a copy or downloading a PDF. 

Friday, 2 January 2015

New Beginnings

Happy New Year to all of our followers! Wishing you all a healthy, happy and successful 2015!

For the past 18 years, each new year also brings a new edition of our well known book, the Comprehensive Guide to Retirement Living and, this year is no different. Next week, we will be going to our distribution house to oversee the packaging and mailing out of our latest book. It takes many many months to put together from start until finish. We usually start working on the content from about April and it takes until early December to create, review (over and over again), and get it looking perfect for press. Some of you may know that I started this book the year that my first son was born. For me, it very much is like my "4th child'" as I have watched it change and grow into a 400+ book with an anticipated annual release. 18 years, 18 books. Something I never thought possible. Each book, brings with it a 'new beginning' - every year its different and every year, we look to innovate and change it up a bit while still keeping the flavour and style of what was always intended and what our readers have come to expect. It is and always has been, a resource first and foremost - a Guide, a directory, an information source - for seniors, their families and professionals who work with them.

I haven't yet seen our latest book - while I am the creator, I do not see the finished product until it gets to the point of distribution. I am, as I am every year, excited to see it again. Here's hoping that the coming year brings growth to the publication and website, captures more users and helps many many people. Every year, every edition, is indeed a new beginning.