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".