Friday, 2 December 2016

Holiday Stresses

As we enter December and holiday season, I hear often about the stress this time of year brings for people. Whether it is related to money, too many commitments, expectations of yourself or others, family or other issues, there is often something that makes this time of year a difficult one for many.

While everyone's situation is different, for those of you who are struggling with how you will cope over the next month, I would like to offer some general thoughts on making your holiday season less stressful:

* Be realistic about what you are able to do
* Limit the expectations you have of others
* Plan ahead as much as possible so you can pace yourself and allow some down time
* If money is an issue, make a budget and stick to it; online shopping may make this a bit easier for some (and may reduce your shopping-related stress)
* Focus on what is important to you and keep that in your thoughts - for most it is simply being with people you care about and making special memories
* Accept the things you cannot change especially in others
* Avoid topics that can cause you to get upset and be aware of them before going into a group situation
* It's okay to say 'no' if you cannot do something
* If the holidays bring up unhappy memories, try to make new positive ones - do something for yourself or change your environment - try to create new traditions
* If you don't have family or friends to celebrate with, consider volunteering your time with others who are less fortunate; alternately, you may want to visit residents in a seniors home
* Try not to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs
* Take care of yourself - eat properly, get sleep, exercise and make time to relax. If you are not feeling well, seek medical attention

If there is a senior in your life, try to include them in celebrations as much as possible. For many who have experienced loss, this time of year may be very difficult for them. As well, they may have physical limitations and mobility issues that add to their own stress. Recognize any issues they may have, be it physical or emotional, and do what you can to make this season easier for them as well. Sometimes helping others, may put your own concerns in perspective and change how you view them.

With each passing year, I recognize how finite time is. Whatever your situation is try to keep things in perspective. Be it one meal, one day or one week, your stress will be time limited and before long this holiday will simply turn into a distant memory.

I wish you all a lovely and warm holiday season!

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Innovation and Housing Options

An article on CBC news caught my eye the other day. A "young" senior couple have come up with a cohousing model for their retirement. Recognizing that while they are healthy now, things may change down the road, and aware of the existing options for seniors which they are not keen on, they have come up with their own model community to support them in their later years.
They want to buy a large house that can be divided into several apartments which will have shared space and private units. And, to ensure that everyone gets along, they are meeting and interviewing others who are interested in the idea. The plan is to get to know each other over time so they can be certain that the group will function well together.
While senior cohousing exists and is a relatively new concept in Canada, it is not available in many provinces. These innovative seniors have taken it a step further by wanting to create their own retirement living arrangements without the involvement of a third party which tends to be how most cohousing models are established. The article points to something that is a new idea for most, however in Scandinavian countries it is very well known and far more common a concept.
The phrase "necessity is the mother of invention" very much applies to this situation and I venture to guess that in the coming years, we will see more and more innovation in models for senior care and housing as people start to 'think outside the box' and plan for a retirement that will work for them both financially and socially.
Right now options for seniors who need care and need to relocate are limited to primarily retirement home and long-term care but there are those who may want or need something different to the typical. While there are several alternatives like condos for seniors, life lease structures and even some senior cooperatives, there is the scope for other models that will meet the changing needs of seniors and the approaching "silver tsunami". The people involved in this personal project are being proactive and clearly thinking ahead and it is people like them that will move us toward greater options for senior care in the future.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Fall and Winter Safety

The weather seems to have suddenly changed. Saying good-bye to the summer is always difficult but is one of the wonders of living in a place with 4 seasons.Seemingly out of nowhere the temperature drops and the leaves start falling. And so begins the time when we again need to be concerned about cold and flu season, dressing warmly and winter safety issues. For seniors, these concerns are amplified as recovering from an illness or fall may take far longer than for younger people. A woman I have come to know in a nearby retirement home who was spry and active, using only a cane on occasion, fell a couple of months ago, hurt her hip and now is using a walker. Having not seen her in a while I was reminded how we cannot take our health for granted and always need to be aware of everyday risks.

And so, looking ahead, I thought it might be helpful to talk a bit about winter safety for seniors. Cold and flu season is a worrisome time and so, prevention is key. Hand washing, lots of fluids, eating a healthy diet, dressing properly for the weather and getting medical attention as soon as one begins feeling ill are logical but often we dismiss any or all of the above until we become terribly sick.

Slips and falls outside in winter weather can happen easily and can be prevented or at least can be less risky if one makes sure that they only walk in areas that have been properly salted and cleared, wear no skid footwear, use a cane if they require it (with a proper tip for the weather), and don't take unnecessary chances.

For senior drivers, car accidents in the winter are common as well - winterize your car and avoid unsafe and icy roads. If you don't feel you are safe driving in certain weather, stay home or use another form of transportation. Don't take unnecessary risks especially in bad weather.

For those who spend a lot of time outdoors, hypothermia is often a concern. Wear warm clothing (including gloves, hat and scarf), stay inside if it's cold or windy and keep your home at a comfortable temperature.

In the home, home heating safety can be an issue. Invest in a carbon monoxide detector, ensure your furnace is serviced and working properly, ensure smoke detectors are working and be very careful if you are using a space heater.

Most importantly though, seniors should be aware of their own limitations and not afraid to ask for help.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Aging in Place

It seems of late, I have been hearing a lot about "Aging in Place". For those unfamiliar with the term, it generally refers to staying in the same place as your needs change and bringing in supports and services to help you manage in your chosen home. While in the past, this was something retirement homes offered, it seems more and more we are hearing this term referred to for those wishing to stay in their private residence as they age.

While staying in one's own home is something most assume (I don't know anyone who talks about a future in a nursing home), it is something that needs to be planned for. Clearly, no one knows what their future holds but there are ways in which one can ensure that they can stay in their home for as long as possible.

Of course, finances are probably the biggest issue. Depending on the type of home you are in, beyond being able to cover the costs of residing in your home, in order to stay there as you age, one might need to renovate, or spend money on care. That being said, if this is the goal, then it may make sense to downsize in retirement to a single level home and one that does not require much maintenance. The type of home you are in can impact your ability to stay independent in your later years.One would need to consider the kind of modifications your home would require as you age and if you will have available funds to pay someone to help maintain your home and provide services to you if you require them.

For those who live in a small community, you may wish to consider/investigate the type of resources or supports in your area for seniors who require help. While your community may meet your needs when you are young, it may not be 'age friendly' for seniors requiring help.

Do keep in mind, that despite one's desire to age in place in their own home, for some this is simply not possible regardless of how much planning one does. As well, sometimes even if you are able to manage in your own home with supports an alternative like a retirement home is more feasible. On a regular basis I witness how retirement homes keep people healthy and engaged through social stimulation, good care and proper nutrition. Many who live in a supportive setting do far better than they would have done living in their own home with supports.

For more information on Aging in Place visit

Friday, 2 September 2016

Home Help

In recent years there seems to be an increasing number of companies who provide care to seniors in their own homes. For those who don't qualify for CCAC services, or for those who need more than what CCAC can provide and wish to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, this is often a very viable option (as long as it is affordable). However, as with any service geared to a vulnerable population, be it children or seniors, it is always best to take a 'buyer beware' attitude. While the large majority of companies are wonderful, well-meaning and caring organizations, there is always the possibility that a company you hire, may not be as reliable as one would expect. To this end, there are several questions one might want to ask before hiring a company to provide care for your loved one in their home. It is always smart to interview care providers before you commit to hiring them and always best to contact a few companies so you can compare what each offers.
Suggested questions include:
1. How long have they been in business?
2. Do they have any kind of accreditation (if they do, investigate them with the accrediting body)?
3. What services do the offer?
4. What qualifications do their employees have?
5. How do they screen employees (back ground checks, vulnerable person screening etc.)?
6. Do they provide extra training to their employees? If so, what kind of training?
7. How do they monitor their staff and track hours?
8. Are they licensed, insured and bonded? Is there agency liability coverage?
9. How do they share information between staff?
10. Do supervisors do surprise visits?
11. Can you interview the caregiver/s before hiring them?
12. Do the same staff visit each time?
13, What is the cost of service? Is there a minimum number of hours? How often are fees increased?
14. What emergency procedures are in place? (feel free to create scenarios of what situations you would consider an emergency)
15. Is there a contract you must sign (ask to see a copy in advance of hiring them)?
16. Can they provide references for their agency and the specific caregivers you would be using?

These are just a few questions to consider. Spend some time thinking about additional things you would like to know before making your calls. As well, you might want to speak with others who have been through this process to find out what things are important to them and what they found helpful or problematic when they hired private help. Its always best if you are prepared and do your research before a crisis hits. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

Living with Family

While it is no longer the 'norm' for children to move their elderly loved ones into there homes for a host of reasons, there are still times when families do consider this as an option when living alone is no longer possible. It is wonderful to have a family that is willing to consider this however, there are a host of factors that need to be taken into account and addressed before finalizing any plans in order to ensure the best possible outcome. It's important to keep in mind the relationship one had and continues to have with the person, any unresolved issues, care needs, home accessibility and a host of other things. Consideration needs to be given to how how a move such as this will impact the senior, family members living in the home, yourself and any extended family.  

Questions to consider include: How will the senior cope living with others especially if there are children in the home with various schedules, activity and needs? Will living in your home impact their privacy and independence? Are you close to their current social network so they can still visit with friends? How demanding is the senior? Will other family members be required to provide care? How will moving the senior into your home impact your job and/or your relationship with your spouse/children? Are there services in your community that can assist with any care if it is required now or in the future? Can you afford the extra person? Will they contribute money? If they do, will this create problems with other family members?

Inter-generational families living under one roof can be extremely rewarding for all family members involved however, for some families adding additional people to your nuclear family can be stressful and can create problems. For those struggling with a decision such as this, do keep in mind that caregiving can be difficult for even the most cohesive of families and if for whatever reason it is not feasible to move your elderly relative into your home, it's important to recognize that sometimes the best decision for all involved might be to let others provide care - even if it means relocating the person to a seniors home of some sort. It cannot and should not be viewed as any sort of failure or as a reflection of how one feels about the person. Sometimes, it is clearly the best move for everyone.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Knowing when its time

People often ask me how they will know when it's time to start thinking about relocation. How do you know when it's time to downsize or consider a retirement home? For some, it's an easy decision and one based on health, lifestyle or even financial issues. For others, it is less clear. To this end, you might want to consider the following sorts of things:
1. Are there stairs in your house and if so, are you having difficulty with them?
2. Do you need help with household tasks, maintenance issues, cooking, shopping or any personal care?
3. Are there people that can help you with things you cannot do for yourself?
4. If you do not have people who can help, would you be willing to hire someone?
5. How do you get around and is this starting to be difficult for you? (driving, public transit, taxi)
6. Are you close to important amenities (doctor, dentist, store etc.)? 
7. Do you use any assistive devices?
8. Do you have safety or health concerns?
9. Do you feel isolated?
10. Do you get out regularly or are you in your home all the time?
11. Do you have a support network of friends and family nearby?
12. Has your family indicated any concerns about your living situation?

These questions can serve as a guide to help you determine if it's time to downsize or obtain support in the home you are currently in. While a few minor issues may not be problematic, some larger ones may suggest a need to begin considering resources and perhaps researching options to downsize with or without care services. it is far better to do your research and start discussing options with your family before you actually need the help and most certainly before crisis hits and available options become limited.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Emergency Visits

When was the last time you went to the Emergency Department of your local hospital? We all know that going to the hospital in an emergency can involve many hours waiting, and be tremendously stressful for all involved. Now imagine being elderly, perhaps with some cognitive issues, and some physical limitations and disabilities. There may be no one you know with you when you are taken there. How much more difficult is a trip to the emerg. for them?

While trips to the emergency room may be unavoidable, coping and managing the stress involved comes down to being prepared. For many years now, I have talked to people about creating an 'Emergency File' of important documents that contains any necessary information for someone to access if you are incapacitated; in recent years I have included lists in our annual book of what should be included in that file (see the article How Important are your Documents? at or for more details you may download the Emergency File Document from our site's online store at

In addition to an Emergency File, it might be wise to create a one page document that can be taken to doctors appointments or on trips to the emergency room so you aren't scrambling to collect things when time may be of the essence. Consider, what a doctor needs to know in an emergency? Medical conditions, drugs/dosages, allergies, contact numbers of physicians, recent tests and results, health card and  insurance information and power of attorney info (if you are someone's POA for personal care, you should have it with you in case you are asked to present it). Because things may change frequently, this list should be updated regularly.

 If you are taking a senior to an Emergency Department or going with them, make sure they have any assistive devices they may require - glasses, dentures, hearing aids, walkers etc. are imperative - do keep in mind though that you don't want them to get lost in the shuffle so ensure that they stay with the person through their hospitalization or if they are admitted, label whatever you can or take home what they don't need for the moment. And for you as the caregiver, make sure you take what you need - money, food, your cell phone and a charger, phone numbers of important friends and family - you may have a long wait so it's important to have anything you might require with you.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Memory Care

As our regular followers know, we have been collecting data on retirement homes for 20 years now. Over this time, we have noticed significant changes in the industry as it has evolved into one that serves many levels of care with different needs. An example of this is care for people with memory issues. At one time, those with dementia were best (and only) served in long-term care (nursing homes). Over time, we have seen more and more retirement level homes offering this sort of care to their residents. Some will have special secure units; others will have security at the exits only. 

The benefit of having this sort of care in a retirement setting are great - firstly, if someone goes in when they are not impaired, and this care is possible, they can stay in their familiar setting with people they know and trust. It is easier on the resident and the family. Secondly, retirement homes have higher functioning people than long-term care in general so the activity and stimulation is greater for that person. This may translate into a slower decline than if they were in a home with very limited activity and programs. Thirdly, because of the cost factors involved, there may be extra resources for those with dementia in a privately funded retirement home than there is available in publicly funded long-term care homes. There are many retirement homes that have excellent care and resources for people with dementia. 

However, as beneficial as it may be, there are also potential issues if the security is not adequate to prevent wandering or the staff are not equipped to manage the resident's issues. By and large, most retirement homes are very up front with families about their abilities to manage people with various medical issues. Beyond liability issues for that one person, they need to ensure the safety of their other residents and staff. While it would be great if the options for care for those with dementia increased (which it no doubt will over time), I respect and applaud homes that recognize their limits and do not take on people who they cannot safely look after. 

All of this aside, while the setting itself might be nicer in a retirement home than a long-term care, it is not always the best place for someone with dementia. Each situation is different but one needs to carefully assess staffing, training and environment in light of the person's deficits. Clearly, for many cost is the prohibitive factor in the choice of care simply because those on government pensions alone would never be able to afford a private care setting (but that is a topic for another time). However, for those who can afford retirement or private assisted living, it is not a 'given' that it is the best place for your loved one if they have cognitive impairment. As with any sort of care for a senior, one has to take the time to look for a place that can meet their needs now and in the future at a price they can afford. Shop around, ask questions, tour, try the food, get references, etc. Because the person with memory impairment is particularly vulnerable, great care needs to be taken when choosing a home to relocate them to. As with anything, the best and most appropriate home isn't always the most expensive or fanciest. In some cases, the most suitable option for someone may indeed be long-term care. 

Friday, 24 June 2016

Ageism in 2016

A recent report released by Revera and Sheridan Centre for Elder Research has concluded that "Ageism continues to be widespread in Canada, and tops the list as the most tolerated form of social prejudice by a wide margin when compared to gender or race-based discrimination" (Revera Report on Ageism: Independence and Choice as we Age, page 8). Perhaps the reason it is so widespread is because it was never identified as discrimination until recently. We all know about sexism and racism and know both have been rallied against for many, many years. But Ageism... much less so. With an aging population and the evident vibrancy of many 'new' seniors, this has now become something we are paying attention to and identifying.

25 years ago, it was not uncommon for people to be very paternalistic when it came to care decisions for their senior loved ones. I recall many occasions as a hospital social worker when children of seniors asked if they could apply for nursing homes without telling the person directly involved. Many families just didn't understand that if someone was competent, no matter how old they were, they had the right to make their own decisions even if others didn't agree.  Those of us involved in discharge planning, breathed a sigh of relief when CCAC began managing long-term care and insisted that that senior involved be informed and signed the applications themselves.

The interesting thing about Ageism and perhaps what makes it so very pervasive, is that people who are ageist don't always realize what they are doing or saying is harmful. It is couched in a belief that one is providing 'care' or taking the burden of looking after everyday things away from someone. What many fail to recognize that in taking away someone else's ability to make decisions for themselves, you are negating their importance and value. Every human adult wants to feel independent and have dignity and control over their lives for as long as they are mentally able to.  And while children may worry about their elder parents, assuming they need guidance, assistance and direction when they have not asked for it, is discriminatory and can cause far more harm than good.  

Combating Ageism will take some time. Awareness is the first step. Change in attitudes and public policy will take some time. I suspect that with each passing year and in large part because of the 'silver tsunami'  we will be forced us to look at our perceptions of aging, care and service provision for seniors. We are entering a time of great opportunity and innovation for both seniors and those who work with them. And our well-spoken and industrious baby boomers of today will likely lead the way by insisting that maintaining one's independence and quality of life well into our senior years is both a right and a necessity.

The Revera/Sheridan Centre report can be downloaded at

Monday, 13 June 2016

Working Caregivers

I remember the years when I had young kids and was working full time an hour away from home. Every time one of them had a sniffle, I worried that the next day would mean that childcare would be an issue. Those early years involved flexibility and always being prepared. I would imagine, being a caregiver for an elderly relative is very similar in its stresses but may, in fact, create greater anxiety depending on who you are sharing caregiving with (or if you are), the medical issues you are dealing with in your loved one, and how supportive your work environment is.

Employers always know when their employees have kids, but don't always know when there are elderly relatives that one might be providing care for. It would seem to me that employers who are more in tune to the responsibilities their employees are juggling, and do their best to support them, may indeed have greater productivity and more dedicated employees. 

With the ever-increasing number of seniors on the horizon, employers will be faced with many employees balancing caregiving and work in the coming years. Being prepared for this, no matter what size company you run will make a huge difference for everyone involved.

 Ideally, a larger company that has employee benefits, may want to consider having Elder Care Counselling as part of their EAP offerings. There are many companies offering this type of counselling and referral so it would make sense for these types of services to be integrated into existing benefits. Some companies even offer lectures/workshops for employees struggling with different sorts of issues and if your company does that, do consider including elder care topics in your offerings. If you have a website with employee resources, include some related to eldercare as well. If you are able to do any or all of these things, let your employees know what is available. 

Regardless of a company's size, flexibility may be a necessity moving forward, with contingencies in place for coverage when people need to be away, or the ability to work remotely if necessary. An openness to creating options for those in a caregiving dilemma may make it easier for employees to approach a boss with some ideas for how they can make things work. If they are not worried about getting their work accomplished during traditional work hours, it may decrease their stress and increase productivity in the long run. 

While Ontario does have an unpaid family leave option for up to 8 weeks (, of concern to many is the decrease in income for that time period, especially if caregiving is impacting their finances. It would be helpful if employers could consider options for individuals requiring this sort of leave to alleviate some of this concern. Larger employers often offer a maternity 'top up'. Something similar would be helpful for those who have to take a break from work to provide care for an elderly loved one. 

 All of these initiatives will most definitely create a caring work environment, decrease the stress of employees juggling care for others, and in doing so, improve their productivity. 

Friday, 27 May 2016

Safety First

After years of working with seniors, looking for safety issues in the home has become second nature. We often think of safety issues as being outdoors - the weather, the road etc., but seniors need to be aware of risks in the home as well. With declining mobility, vision, and hearing, one needs to be more aware of their environment, both inside the home and outside. Most associate home risks with the bathroom and a need for safety bars, but there is really so much more that one needs to be aware of as well.

Are there loose throw rugs or electrical cords on the floor?
Is there anything flammable in the kitchen and if so, is it safely stored?
Is the person safe to use all kitchen appliances?
Are there working smoke detectors and CO detectors in the home on every floor?
Is the person safe in the bathroom and if not are there properly installed safety bars and non-slip flooring?
Is there adequate lighting inside and outside the home?
Are walkways and stairways clear of any tripping hazards?
Are medications safely stored and labelled?

These are just a few areas that need to be reviewed to ensure a home is safe for a senior with any impairments. There are many extensive checklists for home safety online and I would encourage you to seek them out if you are or you have a senior in your life who is living alone. Additionally, you may also want to have the home/person assessed by an Occupational Therapist who can assess functional needs and determine any necessary equipment required. For those who know that they do need some home renovations to make a home safe, the Ontario government has a program called the Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit where a senior who does home improvements for safety/accessibility can claim up to $10,000 on their tax return and get up to 15% back. For information on this program visit


Friday, 13 May 2016

Sorting Stuff

How do you sort through what can be a lifetime of possessions? I was speaking to a group of seniors recently and this topic came up. One lady in the group said she has been 'downsizing' for years and when it gets to the point that she is ready to move, it won't be difficult because the hard work is done. She said she doesn't get attached to 'things' so  her policy is to get rid of everything she doesn't use. Another woman in the group talked about how she had a plan over the next few months to go through her home and get rid of what she could. While she is not moving in the immediate future, she is aware that the time will come soon enough and when it does, it will be easier to move if she has less  to sort through. Yet another woman in the group talked about her memories being tied to the things she owned and how difficult a task it will be to pare down what she has when she decides to downsize to a smaller home.

This conversation got me thinking about the whole topic of downsizing and sorting possessions. For those who decide to downsize to a smaller home and have the luxury of time to do it, the tasks involved may not be too overwhelming. However, for those who for physical or medical reasons need to relocate to a retirement or long-term care setting in a short time frame, this issue can be far more difficult and emotionally draining for the person and their family.  There are many who have lived in their homes for a lifetime and everything in it is tied to memories of that life. And there is a fear that the memories will disappear with the items. The goal for all involved is to separate the memories from the possessions. So how do you do this and rid yourself of things you don't need or can't take with you?

This is a topic I can write an article several pages long on but, in a nutshell, I think you need to start with the easy things first. Start with the big stuff that you can't take with you - extra furniture, household items, kitchenware etc. You would first need to know what you have room for so it's best if you find a place first and know your space limitations. Of the 'easy' (no attachment items), decide if you want to give them away, sell them or throw them out. If you want to give something to a relative, ask them honestly if they want it - if they don't and it is in good condition, consider selling it along with other items in a garage sale, or an online or print ad. Alternately, There are many agencies that would gladly accept donations of gently used items for those less fortunate. For items that hold special meaning, offer it to family members so you can 'visit' your favourites whenever you want. Share the story behind it with them and take photos that you can keep in an album to take with you. If no one wants items that you think are of value, you can try to sell them through auction houses, estate sales or again, on through an online source.

Lastly, no one should have to do this alone. If you don't have family or friends willing to help, there are many professional downsizers and senior move managers willing and able to assist with this process.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Fraud and Scams

A recent news piece detailed a story of an elderly man who was the victim of a financial scam by a woman he married while in his late 80's. The story had elements of elder abuse and financial abuse with a clear picture of how people who are at a vulnerable stage especially without family to keep an eye on them, can fall victim to con artists. His fear was that he would end up in a nursing home and so, placed his trust in a woman who duped him and it appears, others before him.

 It reminded me of a case I had as a hospital social worker many, many years ago where a woman 50 years the junior of an elderly sick man, convinced him to marry her and change his will and powers of attorney. It was my first experience with a situation like this and very difficult to witness. And while there was family, they were not aware of the problem until the damage had been done.

Over the years, unfortunately, these types of stories have become far too common. There are several financial scams geared to target the elderly, And while we read about people after they have been victimized, I do wonder how many seniors actually know what to be wary of. And really, it's not just about seniors. All of us have to be aware. I receive emails and calls frequently which are clear scams. A few months back I got a message from Revenue Canada. It made no sense to me so I started investigating it and discovered that it was a scam and many people had been getting similar calls. Even if one out of 1000 people take it seriously, the con men involved can make a fortune at it. Soon after, I read a story about someone who had fallen victim to this exact scam and handed over thousands of dollars to an unknown crook posing as the tax department. So what can we do to protect ourselves and those we care about?

The RCMP has created an online Guidebook for seniors about Fraud and Scams ( but I question how many people actually know about it and the many different types of fraud and scams that exist. Everything from Lottery Scams to Identity Theft and everything in between is detailed in it. It is most definitely worth a read and a discussion with those you care about. Take some time to read about the scams that are out there and what you can do to protect yourself. Educate yourself and others. The more aware people become of this and the more publicity we give it, the less victims there will be.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Is 70 the new 50?

Two news items about seniors caught my attention this week. The first was a few days ago - a 72-year-old woman spent 9 days lost in the wilderness with her dog. She was found safe and sound in good health having survived drinking from ponds and eating plants. A remarkable story of survival  and most definitely a feel-good newsworthy story. 
The second story was in today's paper. A couple who knew each other as teenagers, lost touch for over 50 years and reunited through social media, fell in love again and will finally marry this summer. Now how amazing is that? 
So why did these two stories catch my attention? Much like stories of 90-year-olds who skydive or learn how to fly an airplane, both are things we rarely attribute to 'older' people. So much of society is still ageist and our perceptions of seniors often align themselves with typical older person activities so, it really is quite refreshing to see seniors portrayed differently. The adage 'you are only as old as you feel' clearly rings true in both of these situations. And, the more we hear about seniors who are not really 'old', the more we are able to combat ageism and change the perceptions people have about what it means to be older. Retirement is not necessarily for everyone over 65. In fact, many people work well beyond that still others volunteer, travel and do many other things that fill their days and nights. Retirement has taken on new meaning as has aging. We are all living healthier longer so it is quite understandable that our perceptions need to shift. Perhaps the best way for that shift to happen is to observe our world in real time. To speak to real 'seniors'. And to educate ourselves about the trends and benefits of aging well. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Best Place to Age

Where do you think the best place to age is? While there are many articles on the best country or city to age in, the reality is if you have spent your life somewhere and have roots and family in a certain city, you are not going to move regardless of how rosy a picture someone paints of another place. I'm really talking about the best setting......... home, retirement home, long-term care home... that sort of thing.
We hear a lot lately about the benefits of  'aging in place' and the theory that people are best off staying in their homes' with any necessary supports which can be increased as their care needs change rather than relocating them to a care home. Indeed, there are many resistant to relocating who will do anything they can to stay in their own homes. And while the adage 'there is no place like home' is one most believe, for a senior with care needs, this, in fact, may not be the case. I do think that many people may have a picture of a senior care home from the past that is not today's reality. I also think that what works for some, does not work for others. And while we would all like to believe that home is the best place, we should not lose sight of the seniors who are isolated, with no family visiting and no social stimulation for whom this is not a good option. Staying home is all they know, but not necessarily the best place for them to age.
Cleary, one's financial situation has a lot to do with how easy 'aging in place' is. There is most definitely a lack publicly funded resources to assist all seniors living in their own homes, as completely as most need. The more one can afford, the more private services one can employ but this does not negate the fact that even with enough supports, one may not be in the best place to age. In terms of public funding - there is home care and long-term care but really nothing in between (e.g. funded retirement homes) and for seniors that don't fall on either end of the spectrum of care needs, there is a big black hole where services should be.
With the 'silver tsunami' approaching, the notion of a spectrum of public funding to meet the needs of different levels of care is something we should all be advocating for. That issue aside, for those who do have the means to give them choices, I would encourage the exploration of options when the time comes or even a bit before. There are many private services and housing available for many different budgets, that will enable the person to be independent, socially stimulated and receive some care which may be far more beneficial than staying in one's own home alone.
As time passes, I'm certain that we will start hearing about different and innovative types of senior living that will hopefully ensure that we receive a more targeted type of senior care. For now though, there are some choices and really it's opening your mind up to options that will ensure you age well in the best place for you.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Taboo topics

There are a few age related topics that people seem to avoid at all costs with those they love. Health, Financial Planning, Advanced Care Planning and End of Life issues are topics few want to raise and even fewer want to talk about. Yet for older adults, these are important to discuss with your family while you are still healthy and can easily clarify what you want when the time comes. I have done many lectures on planning ahead, for both seniors and children of seniors. The common theme between both groups is the fear of raising what are often taboo subjects. It seems that both parties are afraid of a negative reaction from the other one. I do wonder though, if its a fear of a reaction or if neither knows how to start a conversation like this.
Here is the reality though - not talking about it doesn't make the worries go away - and doesn't make a difficult situation any better. For regular readers of our blog, you will know that I am a strong believer in raising issues like future planning well before it's necessary. It gives one time to discuss and understand possible scenarios and options and is far better than having to make a decision in a crisis when options become very limited. It gives the control of one's destiny to the elder person and allows everyone to cope better if the time comes when decisions have to be made.
So, how do you raise your concerns and start a conversation?
We all know of someone who ended up in a hosptial in a crisis situation with their family scrambling to make decisions. The older we are, the more people we know in this situation. And it gets us thinking. What if that were me? And maybe, that is a good place to start. But perhaps, if you are truly concerned about a negative reaction, start slowly. Don't inundate the other person with a million questions and scenarios. Test the waters first but keep in mind that there are many issues to discuss and priorities include the exisistence of a will and power of attorney, financial planning, care planning and what they want when they are close to the end of life. I'm certain with the recent news coverage and conversations about physician-assisted death, many will be willing to weigh in on their opinion for themselves and others on this topic. And this too may provide an entry into the whole topic of care planning itself.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Senior Playgrounds

One of our recent social media posts (March 1, 2016 - Playgrounds for Seniors has generated a fair bit of organic interest. It seems from the comments that people think its a great idea and that these sorts of structures are popular in parts of Europe. I have actually seen them in a few places as part of public parks for everyone to use and recall seeing the idea pitched a couple of years ago on Dragon's Den for the North American market. The equipment is very similar to many circuit training machines in gyms across the country. The drawback of such equipment out in the open is the maintenance that would be required, the risk of vandalism, the liability if someone injures themselves and the weather conditions in various locations. But, seeing them in action yields many positives that may actually outweigh the negatives. Firstly, it would be equipment that can be used by anyone, not just seniors and not just young people. It would definitely encourage physical fitness in those who visit the area it is placed in without the burden of costs that may be prohibitive for some. It encourages interaction of people in the community. And, if placed in areas where many seniors populate, may be a way to encourage 'active aging'. As we see more and more in the media about 'Age-Friendly Communities' we may want to 'think outside of our North American conservative box' and look at examples in other parts of the world where they have managed quite well to create healthy and integrative environments for all populations. Many European countries have found innovative ways of caring for their elderly that we are only just starting to look at - Senior Co-housing is one such model, but there are others which will hopefully be viewed as examples worth considering for Canadian seniors. I am certain that beyond housing, there are also models that encourage healthy living and healthy aging within specific communities. It would seem that having playgrounds in public parks is one such way to accomplish this. I would love to see playgrounds for seniors all over Canada. As George Bernard Shaw penned: "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing".

Friday, 19 February 2016

Retirement living at its best

Every time I visit a retirement home, I am reminded of their importance on so many levels. Their existence underlines the necessity of human connection; the significance of mutual support; the benefits of having people around who can look after you when you are not feeling well and; the value of having 3 hot meals a day that you don't have to worry about preparing or shopping for. It's one thing to know intellectually how beneficial this is and quite another to watch it transform someone you know in a loving and supportive way.

Today I watched a senior I know, return to her retirement home after a week-long hospitalization. I was there when they took her back to her suite with kindness, settled her in, asked her what she needed, and offered to bring her food. I was there when she went down to the dining room and saw her friends and saw how happy they were that she returned. The interaction changed her from someone who had been sick in a hospital bed a few hours earlier, to someone who was vibrant, happy and interactive with her peers and friends. It motivated her to stay and talk, not return to her sickbed.

Had she still lived alone, none of this would have happened. I venture to guess that returning home to an empty apartment, with no assistance in sight, would have resulted in a very different homecoming and outcome.

Unfortunately, not everyone who can benefit from retirement living, does. Many simply cannot afford it (retirement homes are not funded by the government so the cost can be prohibitive if all you have is basic pensions).  That being said, even for people who can afford it, there is often a reluctance to relocate because of a misplaced belief that it will take away independence and be too 'institutional'. In reality though, it does quite the opposite. It encourages independence and interaction with others. And, it supports people in many ways that help them avoid institutional care.

It is truly a shame that so many seniors who require this sort of setting, simply cannot afford it. In an ideal world, we would have retirement settings (or at least government funding in existing homes) for people who are on a limited income. I think, if this were to happen, we would have less seniors in nursing homes (and less waiting in valuable acute care hospital beds to go to a nursing home) because they got the care they needed early on before circumstances forced long-term care placement. While government funding won't fix all of the problems with care and housing for seniors, it most certainly will address many of them, by creating options for those who currently lack support and care in their own homes.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Love of a lifetime

A Humans of New York post from earlier this week went viral on social media. An old man holding a paperback of Shakespeare's sonnets was in the photo with the following quote under it: “My wife passed away last January. We’d been married for 62 years. You caught me at a time when I’ve been thinking a lot about love because I’m reading Shakespeare’s sonnets. The definition of love is elusive, which is why we write about it endlessly. Even Shakespeare couldn’t touch it. All the greatest love stories just seem to be about physical attraction. Romeo and Juliet didn’t know if they liked the same books or movies. It was just physical. After 62 years, it becomes something different entirely. My wife used to say: ‘We are one.’ And believe me, she was not the type of person to overstate something. Now that she’s gone, I realize how right she was. So much of our lives were linked. We were very physical and affectionate. But we also shared every ritual of our life. I miss her every time I leave a movie and can’t ask for her opinion. Or every time I go to a restaurant and can’t give her a taste of my chicken. I miss her most at night. We got in bed together at the same time every night.” (

I saw the post and was touched by it but had no idea how many others felt the same way until I looked below it and saw it had 1.4M likes and nearly 71K comments. Wow! So what is it about a post like this that makes it go viral? We too have social media networks and know that certain of our posts get viewed far more than others. Often it's a nice relatable quote or a fun photo that does it. With this website and specifically this post, it seems to be the weight of the words that attracts. 

So what was it about this post that made me want to do something I rarely do. Why did I click 'share'? What shines through his words is the genuine love & respect two people who shared a lifetime together, had. In a few sentences we know how truly in love with her he was and still is. He has eloquently defined what love means to him - what it should mean to all of us. His sentiments are something to be celebrated. This is social media at its best.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Relocation Worries

I read an article the other day about a survey a retirement home company did with the children of seniors in an effort to discover the 3 main concerns people have about moving an elder loved one to a care/retirement home. The 3 most common worries are reported to be: having the "talk", making the right choice and feeling guilty. None of these issues are surprising and indeed we have been addressing all three for the many years we have been working on our website and book and when giving lectures to different groups of people.

I do believe that the fix for all of these issues is opening up communication with aging relatives early on - before anyone needs any help or needs to consider relocation. The trick, which is far easier said than done, is convincing people that they need to have this conversation BEFORE they need to consider options. More often than not, people are afraid to discuss the topic of care and relocation so they put it off until at best, options are limited and at worst, there are no options. Try as I may, I simply cannot convince people that it's far easier to raise a difficult topic when it's not staring you in the face. If it takes time to come to a decision - and you have that time - and you have planned ahead - then finding the right place is easy and guilt is minimal if not, non-existent.

I suspect that the generation of boomers, who are now in the process or have been through the process of helping to relocate a parent, will be more inclined to plan ahead for themselves knowing what the reality was for them. That being said, it may be another 15 - 20 years before the lessons learned from the past translate into making things easier for those who follow.

So, for those who have not planned ahead and are faced with aging relatives who may or may not need care here are some thoughts on how to address the three concerns....
1. Have the talk ASAP - your concerns will not go away just because you refuse to discuss them. Be honest. Involve trusted others if necessary. Be understanding and supportive. We have many suggestions on how to deal with this conversation in our book and in our PDF - Care Options for Seniors (which is an excerpt of the book)
2. Take the time to look around and investigate options. Don't just choose a place from a list. Go and visit. Try a meal. Speak to people. Get references. Encourage your loved one to participate in decision making and stay for a trial period if it is offered. This only works though if you have time. If you are in the situation where you are under pressure from a hospital or a caregiver to make quick choices, you may cut corners and then the place you choose may not be best for your loved one. Again, the more time you have to make this decision the better the chances that you will choose a place that is the 'right one' for your loved one. Our book has a long list of questions to ask when you are on tour or you can download the questionnaire from our website (Retirement Home and Long-Term Care Visiting Tips).
3. If the decision is made with the consent of your loved one and they feel like they have been an active participant in making the choice and the move, guilt is minimal if at all. The key to all of this is having the "talk" early enough that they are able to participate in planning and decision-making.

It all comes down to time. We all have an endless amount of time until we don't. Having the hard conversations early enough makes all the difference in terms of choices, adjustment and emotional well-being.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Caring for the young and old under one roof

A nursing home and a daycare centre under one roof! What a concept! It's not surprising that it works so well in Providence Mount St. Vincent in Seattle that they have a huge waiting list for their daycare and are now the subject of a documentary to be released next year. Children have a way of making people smile. They thrive on interaction and learning from others. They make the old feel young; helping them remember days gone by. They give us hope for the future and with any luck, will learn from mistakes of the past
In a multi-generational setting, there is the ability to inject vitality into a place usually associated with illness and frailty. Young children interacting with seniors may even be the solution to combatting ageism. Imagine learning from seniors from a young age; an age where we see their value rather than negating their worth  - would that not lead to a lifelong appreciation for older adults and their contribution to the world? 
In the past, when multiple generations of one family lived under one roof, it was common for children to learn from their grandparents and have respect, understanding and patience for their elders. In today's world, families are scattered, often in different countries, if not cities and few children grow up living with, or even in close proximity to, grandparents. That most definitely impacts one's view of the older generation. The more we can encourage multi-generational interaction, respect and learning, the more the barriers created by age will be diminished. 
Apparently, this type of a setting exists in Japan, Canada and the US, though since it is not something widespread enough to be common knowledge, one can only assume that it's on a smaller scale in other locations. When searching for information on these settings, the one that comes up repeatedly is Providence Mount St. Vincent but I do think that by and large it has more to do with the publicity about documentary than the concept. 
That being said, now that 'the word it out' maybe it's time to start thinking about bringing this idea or innovation to more daycare centres and nursing homes. It seems that the results can only be positive, for all involved and society as a whole.

Friday, 8 January 2016

19 years and counting!

Happy New Year to all of our followers!

New beginnings for a new year .... as we have done for the past 19 years, our new book was released this past week. It's hard to believe that we have recreated our 'Guide' 19 times but when I pull out our first edition, I realize how many changes we have made over the years to keep it current and provide the best possible information to those at the stage of seeking retirement living options. Always looking for new information to share with our readers, our section 1 continues to grow and change annually. As changes to homes and resources happen frequently, the other sections of the book are also very different from one year to the next enabling us to create a brand new book from beginning to end, every year.

While there are an increasing number of options for those seeking to relocate in retirement, and vast amounts of information about them all over the internet, sometimes what is most difficult is figuring where and when to begin. Often seeking out information can be overwhelming, especially when one considers changing so much that is familiar in their lives.With years of understanding behind us, our goal is to help people figure out the option that is best for them. We continue to create a book that is a bit of a 'one stop shop' on retirement containing information on options, and resources one might need to get to where they want to be. While some homes are opting out of print to be online only, many still feel as strongly as we do; having our information in a book format is very relevant and important for so many still - especially seniors, their families and professionals who work with them. For those who use our book, if you can't find something there, do check our website as we are constantly adding information online - failing that, we are always open to being contacted to assist, explain and provide information.

For those wishing to purchase our new 2016 Guide, please go to our online store to order your copy in book, CD or PDF Formats at

Please feel free to let us know if there is additional information you would like us to add to our next book..........

Our thanks go out to all who participated in our 2016 Guide and to those of you who use it and refer others to it.