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.