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.