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The Future of Care For Seniors….It’s Time To Stop Talking and Act!

Our Federal Government says it’s working to set national standards in long-term care. My question is “why wasn’t this a priority as soon April 2020 as the trends of residents dying at an alarming rate at the begging of COVID-19?”

Hearing about ‘discussions’ with all parties makes me furious. Let’s stop talking and do something! I wrote to our provincial government and got much the same answer – they are meeting…….. At least I got an answer. When I wrote tour local MP (twice) he has been silent.

Meeting, discussing etc. is not going to help. We need action NOW. The main recommendations from those who understand the deficiencies include:

  • no more than one resident per room
  • access to own bathroom
  • staff work at one facility only
  • fast track certification for personal care workers
  • increase staff/resident ratio

It appears that standards of infection control and availability of safety protective gear is better. The issue is if there aren’t enough staff, this does absolutely nothing.

It’s easy to provide PPE (personal protective equipment). What seems to be difficult is implementing standards.

Let’s see the provincial and federal government act now. We hear of care workers exhausted from masking up, wearing goggles, working extra shifts, etc. and while many politicians are quick to say “The conditions for senior care is egregious”, no one has actually implemented any sort of action that will help. Meetings and discussions aren’t helping our seniors!

One politician said “problems existed with seniors care long before COVID-19.” My question is so why aren’t you acting NOW?

Safe guards are woefully inadequate within our seniors care facilities. If, and most medical professionals say ‘when,’ the COVID-19 cases being to rise again, many of these low-paid and exhausted staff will leave. That was a pattern in March and April. Remember the military being sent in to care facilities to help?

If we want to stop this needless annihilation of our seniors – “this shock-wave that cracked wide all the fractures within our nursing home system” (July 2020 Report, Royal Society of Canada) , quit discussing and act.

Even the safe guards, we as caregivers had before COVID-19 are stripped away. Because of fear of infection, no outsiders are allowed into the seniors care homes.

While family members could supplement care, that option is no longer available, thus elevating the work load for staff. I often helped my parents to the toilet, made their beds, took them for walks, got them snacks, did their laundry, helped them dress and later on, feed them. I know others did the same. Without this volunteer help, no wonder we hear of residents being left alone for hours. There just aren’t the number of staff to help.

So what can we do? Let’s be vocal about our concerns. Let’s hold all levels of government accountable. Write letters. Phone your politicians. Talk to Directors at your local seniors places and find out what they need. What are their concerns? We can make a difference. In this case I believe the squeaky wheel will get attention.

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Plan For The Winter

We are all talking about what we are going to do over the winter months now our winter homes are off-limits, at least for the next few months. How many crosswords, word searches, sudoko, movies, jigsaw puzzles and books can we tolerate?

How can we stay busy, fit and happy? For those of us living where snow and ice arrive, it means taking precautions if we are going out walking. While this spring and summer walking was a lifesaver, we understand once the snow arrives, a fall and a broken bone have the potential to change our lives forever.

There are lots of great winter sports like skiing, curling and snow-shoeing; now it’s a matter of… while the mind is willing can the body take it?

Personally we are looking at renewing our gym membership because, to our knowledge there haven’t been any reported cases of infection at our local gym. We can use the machines and stay fit without risk of falls…unless, of course, we fall off the treadmill or exercise bike!

Some of our friends have discovered ways to play bridge virtually and will continue that practise.

Most of us have completed home projects such as organizing closets, drawers and clothes. When we first got home in March we purged and just last week we again each collected a bag of clothes we no longer needed and got them ready to donate. There are still some drawers to go through.

Personally I love to bake and cook so I’m organizing new recipes I’ve tried from the Internet into a binder. It sure beats all the bits and pieces of tattered papers I’ve collected over the years.

Another project, for me, will be is to organize all the files on the computer…..I know I will have the time, it will be a matter of settling down to do it. I have to add it to my ‘to do’ list or it won’t get done.

We have a great group of long-term friends and over the summer we met at a local park, brought our lunch and chairs and had socially distanced visits. It was such a good sanity saver. Perhaps there is a way to meet over the winter at a public fire pit for a visit. With wood, the right clothes and hot dogs to roast it could work. One of our famous Chinooks would certainly help.

I know friends who plan to keep busy quilting, knitting, and doing a variety of crafts. Others enjoy wood working, painting and home renovations.

Others are writing memories. I loved the fact that my grandparents and parents were great story tellers and mom and dad both wrote down some for us. We so appreciate them now. Don’t worry about format, sentence structure etc. just get them down.

We could also try a new instrument. Many people are enjoying the ukulele and believe me, it s easy to learn and fun. The trick is to practise. There are so many videos on the Internet that you will have simple chords down quickly, it is fool proof…I’m speaking from experience here!

As we age our thinking becomes slower and there are some simple things we can incorporate into our daily routines to improve our ‘connections.’ Brush your teeth or try eating using the non-dominate hand. Apparently this builds new brain connections. Make a list of 10 books you have read. Memorize it. One hour later see if you can repeat it. If you have always done crosswords then try a different type game. It’s important to keep learning.

Another task is to count backwards from 100 by 7,s then 6s etc. One person I was chatting with learned all the states in United States and then the capitals. Now she is working on European capitals. All good for our aging brain.

There are some excellent computer games to play. As I was reading about various individual games, the important thing is to change it up. If you are a crossword puzzle person incorporate some other types of games. Or if you prefer the math-type games try crosswords or something else. It’s important to keep challenging our minds.

What do you plan to do this winter? There are lots of possibilities. Today might be a good time to explore them. Make a plan, write it down and this might just give you a positive to focus.

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Bits and Pieces…Saturday Ramblings

A few months ago a good friend recommended I read a BLOG called “Margaret At Sixty and Me.” It arrives daily in my email and I usually find something that resonates. It is based out of the United Kingdom. If you are interested, you can find it at www.sixtyandme.com

Yesterday one of the articles was called 10 Ways to Help a Friend Who is a New Widow. I found the suggestions to be practical and would apply to anyone who is suffering from loneliness during this pandemic too. I will share a couple with you.

Send a Card even when you don’t know what to say is always a good way to connect with people. It lets them know you are thinking about them. And who doesn’t like a little surprise in their mailbox? I understand that letter writing is a thing of the past and yet we baby boomers certainly appreciate a hand-written note.

Suggest Ways to Help Rather than Ask …..be specific. Instead of saying something like call me if you need anything, you might like to say – when can we go on a walk together, or would Tuesday be a good day for me to come over and weed your garden. A comment such as call me if you need anything is usually unheeded. If you truly want to help, be specific and more than likely you will be taken up on your suggestion. When upset, it is really difficult to make any kind of decision so by being specific you take that away.

Do you have a favourite BLOG you think other readers would enjoy? Let me know.

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As this pandemic continues I thought it would be interesting to hear how you are coping. When things are going wrong or you are upset about our world, what is the first thing that pops into your head?

If it is is “woe is me” or “what a terrible world” your personal philosophy may be sabotaging you rather than saving you. While you may not have taken time to verbalize your personal philosophy before, now might be a good time.

I used to lead workshops called “Dealing With Difficult People Without Becoming One Yourself.” One exercise was to identify a personal philosophy. Some participants knew right away what theirs was, while others pondered the question.

As I was pulling materials together for the workshop I began to think about my own philosophy. Did I have one? Yes I did because many years ago when faxes were the “best technology” available mine began to spit out a message late one Friday afternoon.

As I plucked that shiny, curled piece of fax paper off the machine I laughed out loud….it simply said “Blessed are the Flexible for They Shall Not be Bent Out of Shape.”

The same good friend who told me about the BLOG sent me that gem too. I immediately transferred it to a piece of cardboard and it hung on my home office wall until we moved. Whenever my life felt unhinged I would silently chant that saying. I still try to live by that philosophy today.

Take time over the next few days to come up with your own personal philosophy. Even if you haven’t formally written one down, I bet most of you have one.

While giving the workshops here are some examples I heard:

  • Focus on What’s Right With The World Instead of What’s Wrong
  • Do Onto Others As You Would Have Them Do Onto You
  • Time is Limited So Think Big
  • Look For Opportunities to Leave The World A Better Place
  • You Never See A Hearse Pulling a U-Haul
  • Your Strongest Muscle and Worst Enemy is Your Mind. Train It Well.
  • Make improvements, not excuses
  • Life Has No Remote, Get Up and Change It Yourself
  • Seek Respect, not Attention
  • The Mind is a Flexible Mirror. Adjust It To See A Better World
  • The Serenity Prayer…God Grant Me the Serenity to accept…..

Identifying a personal philosophy might just help you navigate these uncertain times.

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12 Tips To Survive and Thrive During COVID……..Baby Boomers Aren’t Getting Older We’re Getting Wiser!

A good friend turned 80 this past February and we had a great celebratory week of parties. She never says “getting older” it’s always “getting wiser.” I think it’s a great idea. Words do matter!

When you see Penny around our RV Park you see this slim, strong woman in sweats and long-sleeved t-shirts walking, biking, golfing or on the pickle ball courts. She always has a big smile on her face and a kind word for everyone. The next season we will see her with her newest family addition – a golden retreiver.

Just like the rest of us Penny is fed up with COVID. It has certainly changed the way we conduct our daily lives. We understand that as retirees we are in a group who doesn’t have the pressures of the younger generation. We don’t have to make a decision about whether or not our children attend school, whether or not we will maintain our income or how to carry on if one family member becomes ill. As “the wise” generation our focus is to remain positive and not ‘awfulize’ the situation…..we don’t want to add pressure to those around us.

Penny and I have been talking and here are our 12 tips as you become “wiser.”

  1. Remember that each day when you open your eyes you have two choices- to be happy or to be sad. Make a conscious choice.
  2. Look for new experiences and cultivate a variety of friends. Penny thought about each decade of her life and focused on a different activity-such as triathlons, polo, traveling in a motor home and taking up pickle ball. Any chance she got, she would travel to other countries. While our travel is now limited, there is lots to explore within your own community.
  3. Set your kids free and allow them to be self-sufficient. The same with adult grandchildren. Allow them to live with their choices.
  4. Eat well. Limit processed foods and use lots of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. Penny has recently become a vegan and feels her pain from inflammation is much better. (I have noticed she hasn’t given up her nightly scotch or me my wine.)
  5. Allow yourself quiet time daily such as reading, listening to music or simply watching the world go by. Get enough sleep each night.
  6. Do whatever exercise you can each day. Walking, golfing, pickle ball, swimming etc. Just because you aren’t as good as you used to be, enjoy the experience. Be kind to yourself.
  7. Accept invitations. Socialization is great for your mental health. A change of scenery and a different conversation improves mental health. With careful thought, you can be sociable and social-distance.
  8. Do not be obsessive, be knowledgeable not judgemental as you stay current with the daily news. Limit your viewing time.
  9. Focus on today. We can’t change the past and have no control on the future.
  10. Pain and discomfort do not always accompany “getting wiser.” Rather than accept it, go to a health professional (physician, physical therapist, dentist, chiropractor, nutritionist etc.) Once you have their opinion, follow their advice.
  11. Respect the younger generation and value their opinions. Be supportive and encouraging. Do not judge.
  12. Laugh lots. Look for people, experiences and activities that make you smile.

How are you staying positive during COVID? What would your 12 rules be?

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Urgent Action Needed to Reform Long-Term Care in Canada (Part Four)

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The Royal Society of Canada (RSC) published a report on July 2, 2020 that consists of 9 steps to solving the workforce crisis in nursing homes, all of which require a strong, coordinated leadership at the federal and provincial/territorial levels to implement.

It says” Our long-term care sector, particularly nursing homes, is in crisis now from far more than COVID-19. The pandemic just exposed long-standing, wide-spread and pervasive deficiencies in the sector.”

It implores the levels of government to:

  • listen to older adults especially those living with dementia and their caregivers
  • acknowledge profound inequities faced by elderly, especially poverty
  • develop and support management and leadership
  • build resilience and listen to workers in long term care (LTC) who do the direct care
  • establish standards for appropriate levels of regulated health workers

When I read ‘profound inequities’, need to establish ‘adequate levels’ and ‘establish standards’, I am frightened. Those of us who have had parents or friends in nursing homes or long-term care have long seen the inequities. We knew there were not enough staff and standards were as varied as the facility.

Many of us supplemented care and were vocal advocates so our loved-ones were well cared for. We were able to pay for the extras that were not provided such as vision, feet and eye care. We saw ernest staff, coping with residents who had dementia or were upset/depressed, and yet these caring staff had no support or training.

We’ve all heard of restraints of medication being used to calm someone. Or a resident calling out from their room in obvious distress. It broke my heart to go into my friend’s residence and hear the moans, the calls and smell the odours that meant there wasn’t adequate staff to care for all the complex needs.

How can we expect staff to have strategies to assist when there is no standard formal training? Or they simply cannot get to all the patients they are assigned? They aren’t lazy. They just don’t have the skills or the time to accomplish what is needed.

Older people are entering care facilities with far more complex needs than those who entered even 10 years ago. We are all living longer. We need more complex and higher levels of medical and social care. Therefore staff need to be better prepared.

I was shocked when I read that The Canada Health Act DOES NOT protect or ensure universal Long Term Care! Canada’s Long Term Care sector has it roots in the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601! It’s time for an update.

The first step recommended by this report is to address the workforce crisis. Untrained care aids and personal support workers are injuring themselves, experiencing burnout and are the lowest paid in the health care sector. Since they do 90% of the direct care they need to be properly supported and have a voice in the care of the patients.

I believe we need to establish federal standards and have inspectors making monthly, unannounced visits to long-term care facilities and nursing homes to ensure standards are being met.

Our governments need to see this as a priority. We need to let them know it is important. As the report says there is ample sound evidence on how to achieve this. While the pandemic exposed the crisis, it is long-standing, wide spread and pervasive. The deficiencies in the sector are deplorable.

Write to The Federal Minister of Health The Honourable Patty Hajdu as well as the Federal Minister of Seniors, The Honourable Deb Schulte. Also send letters to your provincial ministers. Let them all know it is priority. Our voice will make a difference.

We need to speak up for those who cannot.

To read the report RESTORING TRUST: COVID-19 AND THE FUTURE OF LONG-TERM CARE go to:

https://rsc-src.ca/en/restoring-trust-covid-19-and-future-long-term-care

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Home Care for the Vulnerable (Part Three)

Over and over we hear that it is best to age in place. Or if you have a medical condition that requires support from others it is again best to have the help come into your home.

While in theory it sounds like a perfect solution in practise it does not work, unless you have a large bank account.

Both my parents and my in-laws accessed home care at various points. My parents only qualified for it after my mom was released from the hospital with a cracked pelvis. The Home Care worker came in twice a week to help her bath. My mom liked to bathe every other day so on those days she would do it by herself. I tried to make the 30 minute drive out to help because I didn’t want her to fall.

Later on when I was worn out from grocery shopping every few days for them, we hired a lady to come and help out. It cost $25 per hour and she came for three hours once a week. I still supplemented picking up medication and groceries……

If they had a medical appointment, my brother or I would drive them. At their particular age taking a taxi wasn’t in their plans. My in-laws also refused to take taxis so my husband or I would drive them to and from appointments.

We also hired a cleaning lady so that was another cost. Another person was hired for foot care and they purchased meals on wheels.

My in-laws qualified for bathing twice a week, so we hired a cleaning lady and they had meals on wheels. They refused to hire a foot care person.

In our experience Home Care people were often different. How could any sort of trust be gained when different people arrived to do this intimate care?

One my friend’s mothers refused to let a ‘stranger’ in her house. She had mild dementia and was afraid to allow this Home Care Worker she hadn’t seen before come in. Makes sense to me.

When my friend phoned to see why her mother wasn’t bathed she was told her mother refused. While I understand the Home Care Worker could not force herself in, it highlights an issue with Home Care.

Home Care staff were also always rushed as there were time limits set for each ‘service’ they offered. When dealing with people who are vulnerable, as in elderly or medically fragile, trying to rush them only adds to the confusion and stress.

A good friend has a sister who is confined to a wheel chair and requires daily home support, even though she lives in an assisted living facility.

The sister qualifies for three showers each week and is allowed one hour per shower. Because she is incontinent this is not really enough. She copes.

She needs exercises so Home Hare provided a physiotherapist twice a week. As soon as the pandemic started this was stopped. Her sister had to hire a private physiotherapist and can only afford her once a week. This in not helping her to maintain her independence.

The sister has limited use of her hands and Home Care comes in once a week for two hours to assist with laundry, homemaking and cleaning. Even in a small apartment there is no way everything gets done. During the pandemic this limited help was gone. It fell to my friend and later on, to the sister was able to hire a lady to help out. Again this was a financial burden.

As far as meals go, within the assisted living place where the sister resides, meals were provided but because of the pandemic, she is now charged $5 if she asks that they bring the tray up to her room.

Can you imagine someone with limited hand and arm strength opening her door to go out in the hall, wheel herself down the hall, enter an elevator, pick up her food tray and then make the reverse trip. How can this be safe?

So my friend makes meals to freeze that can be warmed up in the microwave. Her sister is getting limited social interaction and my friend is taking on another job.

When Home Care does come, part of the service is meal preparation. The reality is that they are only allowed to make toast, salads or sandwiches. If we care about nutrition this is simply not enough.

The sister requires medication twice a day and Home Care does come in to administer the drugs. Again there is a time limit to these visits so it is quick.

What I have noticed in the condo where my parents resided and now our condo is there are many different Home Care staff arriving at different times of the day to assist people who need help.

I wonder if those visits couldn’t be better coordinated so it was always the same three or four staff who visited a building. Wouldn’t that make more sense, be a better use of time and be easier on those who need the help?

For my parents, in-laws and other friend’s parents and siblings, we step up and help when needed, sometimes at our expense.

For caregivers this can become a full time job and many are wearing out, stressed and financially burdened. We are aging too.

What happens to the vulnerable who have no one? How about those who don’t have the bank account to be able to hire extra help. It is frightening to think of their fate.

I hear arguments about cost and certainly this needs to be considered. Let’s sit down and talk about what could work better? If there a different way that is more humane?

I understand that moving the vulnerable into institutions isn’t popular, especially after we see what is happening in many, and yet for us as caregivers it was reassuring to know that qualified staff was on site 24/7.
Also most residents get more social stimulation which is so necessary to their physical and mental health.

In it’s present state, Home Care is not enough to keep our vulnerable in the best safe spot we would expect for our loved ones.

Seniors and those living with degenerative diseases deserve the respect and care we give to children. We need more doctors, nurse practitioners and trained staff who specialize in this care.

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CARING FOR THE VULNERABLE…..(PART TWO)

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Thank you to all who made comments and called me after part one of ‘Caring for the Vulnerable’ where I talked about having patient-based care and single rooms for all who live in care facilities.

If politicians are serious about making a positive difference to the care of the elderly and those with complex health needs, new thinking must be implemented.

A one hour planned visit does not give anyone the true picture of a facility. In order to make economically wise decisions while keeping patient needs first, talk to family who visit regularly, residents and staff.

My parents were part of a survey, yet they didn’t want to say anything negative that would upset the staff that they were dependent on. I suspect some staff felt the same way when asked for opinions.

Those of us who visited often, and spent years in and out of facilities have much to offer. We have watched staff interact, seen residents arrive and later fade as their health needs become more complex. We see the caring staff who take time to visit, the cleaning staff who sing while they work and the laundry people who sew buttons on, using their own time. I watched the handyman cheer so many people as he went about his work, calling residents by name and asking questions they could answer.

For the most part the staff I saw were professional, worked hard and cared about their residents. There were just too few and there were too many patients for them to be successful. I could sense frustration when they couldn’t reach all residents in a timely manner.

I think that the buildings need to be utilized differently.

When I visited my parents, I always thought how wonderful it would be if high school students, who were in alternative programs/classes used the eating areas for classes. They would arrive after breakfast, have a break for lunch and sit with the seniors as they all ate together. After lunch they could resume classes.

It would give residents something to look forward too and it would afford students an opportunity to connect with the residents. It would promote conversation at the tables.

I could see some residents just coming and watching the students or sitting in on the classes. In Alberta there is required program in high school called Career and Life Management (CALM) that would work well.

If once a week classes were held in a care faculty all kinds of enrichment would occur.

My parents had so many wonderful stories to tell of growing up. They rode horses to school, trapped weasals on the way to school, that were later used for the Queen’s coronation and had memories of going to and later teaching in a one room school. The first job, on cold winter days was to light the fire and gather snow to rub on children who arrived with frost bite.

What rich experiences students, who perhaps missed out on grandparents, could have when these readily available resources were so accessible. The rewards would be two-way.

When I have visited in assisted living and long term care facilities there are always some common rooms not being used. How about hosting adult classes there? Classes such as Writing Memories, Arm Chair Travel, Crib Club, Yoga, Balance Classes, Knitting or Craft Groups. What a treat for the residents to be able to sit in or participate with their outside community.

Residents are often bored and feel useless. I could see making rag rugs or adding to discussions a great opportunity for all. People sitting around doing a craft together would encourage talk, something many seniors in institutionalized care crave.

Most residents have a regular church service, why not offer groups a place to hold regular meetings? When members arrived they could stop by rooms to invite the residents. My dad and uncles would have loved to hear about the new farm machinery available and what it was capable of. Others would enjoy watching demonstrations of word craving or watching an artist paint a picture.

When I think of the atrium at my parents spot, if artists were to come in and set up their canvases I could see residents watching, possibly interacting and simply enjoying something different.

How about a local band or school band coming in monthly to practise and present a concert? Or a small group such as the jazz band or string quartet setting up in small areas to practise and offer more intimate concerts.

Book discussion groups, politicians, gardeners, a genealogy group, local museum group or those interested in royalty are often looking for space to hold meetings. Offer up a room for an hour or two at the local care facility.

If more people were coming in and out I believe the residents would be more stimulated and willing to participate. Also ‘the public’ would begin to see what goes on in these facilities and perhaps discover ways to help out or lobby for more care.

While some people can’t hear and others can’t see the fact that there is more going on around them in the public areas would be excellent. I remember one fellow would be looking out the window in the hall when I arrived. I asked him what he was seeing and he told me he was watching a farmer seed. Everyone else was in their rooms. He wanted and needed some conversation and stimulation.

It’s not just seniors in these facilities. One fellow I got to know was probably in his early fifties and he watched movies from morning to night, all alone in his room. If I engaged him in a discussion he was knowledgable and enthused. What a rich resource that was not being utilized.

Another young person who had some kind of advanced muscular disease always looked so lonely as there was no one her age to chat with. While frail, she needed something to look forward to. I only ever saw her at meals, sitting at a table with non-verbal residents. No wonder she spent all her time in her room.

When the recreation director had an exercise class with all the residents sitting in a circle throwing a ball to each other I can understand the reluctance of residents to attend. Why not have community yoga classes where instructors can adapt movements for residents who attend and other residents are able to watch the outside people participate. I bet over time conversations after classes would be rich for all.

Preschool and kindergarten programs could be offered and residents would love to watch the children and teachers interact. Many residents would enjoy having children read to them or residents would happily read or simply chat with the children.

Why not have raised flower and vegetable beds in atriums so some of the more agile residents could plant gardens or help to keep them weed free. Young children could help out too. These kinds of adaptations would give the residents a feeling of being needed and worth.

Because my parents were in a small town care facility, the staff mostly stayed the same. This should be a requirement of all institutions. When staff are hired they are offered full-time or part-time positions and only work at one location. Staff also need to work with the same residents so all begin to understand each others idiosyncrasies.

For residents to never know who is going to show up to bathe or administer medications is upsetting and confusing. As they need more care, the staff understands them and is able to offer much more compassionate care.

My mom’ personality changed over the four years she was in her long-term care facility and what comfort for her to have familiar caregivers. It was comforting for me to know that the caregivers knew what she was like before her disease took away some of her former personality traits.

At my parents’ long-term care facility there were registered nurses (RNs) who were their case workers and had many residents under their care. They worked Monday to Friday during the day. Who believes that these residents’ needs are only a day job with no week ends?

There was a also a part-time nurse practitioner. This person was not visible on the wards, unless there was an issue. Do the ‘experts’ who staff these places think residents need to have prescriptions filled, medications changed or adapted or bed sores checked, infections diagnosed only a couple of days a week?

When my mother got an urinary infection it seemed to usually occur on Fridays….if a urine sample was collected we didn’t hear the results until Monday….by this time she was often confused and uncomfortable. She was taken to the hospital a couple of times when all she needed was to start on an antibiotic. Why?

If there was a nurse practitioner on-site, 7 days a week and Registered Nurses on 7 days a week many ambulance trips to emergency departments at the hospital would be saved.

It was a common occurrence to have an ambulance idling at the front door of the care facility as I drove up. Keeping residents in familiar surroundings with staff who understand their unique needs just makes sense. Emergency room staff, not knowing the history etc. were not in the best position to treat these vulnerable human beings.

Trips to the hospital are costly, confusing and frightening for the vulnerable. Let’s treat these people in a more humane way.

The lack of staff has been highlighted during the COVID pandemic. Seniors buzzing for assistance to get to the bathroom are often waiting over 45 minutes, residents are lined up in halls to be wheeled to a meal and then later falling asleep at the meal tables because no one was around to take them back to their rooms. The staff, I observed, were not sitting around, they simply could not attend to the number of patients they were responsible for. Let’s acknowledge that care facilities need an update on staffing levels.

With modern medicine, seniors and those with complex health needs are living longer. The requirements of 20 years ago are not the same as today.

Staffing levels need to reflect this new reality as does that fact that we need qualified health professionals in place 24/7. The wages must reflect this level of care we insist on. Training must be rigorous and on-going.

The money saved, if hospital wards where seniors are in holding pattern until a room in a care facility comes open,would be better spent on care facilities that meet the needs that are now evident and as we baby boomers age will become more critical.

In Part Three I will look at why Home-Care does not work in it’s present stage unless you have family members or friends willing to augment the limited care as mandated by the government regulations.


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Protecting The Vulnerable (PART ONE)

As I listened to federal and provincial politicians talk about the crisis in caring for the elderly I felt hope. They all appear to want to change the way we care for those in any kind of elder care. Now it’s up to us to advocate and turn the talk into thoughtful action.

If we were to run day cares or any child care the way elder care is operated there would be a huge outcry and rightfully so. Let’s maintain those same standards for those who grew our country. Let’s look at dignified and specialized care for our elders.

As I watched my grandparents live out their last years in institutionalized care I always thought it was a crime that my one grandmother was in a room for two.

At 92 she deserved to have her own space. The lady beside her never seemed to get out of bed or have visitors. My grandma had dementia and she would ask me who the lady in her room was. It must be so confusing to suddenly be in such as place.

I often visited a former boss who was in a long term care home and his roommate groaned and called out. I felt such sadness that he could not live in the dignity he offered his staff throughout his career. If he was up I would take him to another area where we could visit without interruption.

I had hoped that would have changed. It did not. As my friend, here in Calgary, sought out placements for her dad, the only ones available offered shared rooms.

Why, when in your 80s or 90s should you be thrust into something that even University students now complain about! It seems cruel.

My first wish would that seniors or those needing 24 hour care all have single rooms with their own bathroom.

When my parents moved from Assisted Living to Long-Term Care they were not allowed to bring their own beds. They would now use hospital beds. I understand this as some residents needed care that was better administered if the bed was lowered or raised.

At 6’2″ my dad did not fit in a standard-sized hospital bed and there were no extra-long beds available. We explained to the staff what dad would need, weeks ahead of the move.

However Dad suffered, scrunched up or trying to get comfortable laying on an angle until one was located. How was this making the place feel welcoming? What happened to those vulnerable patients who did not have advocates?

Second I would look at patient-based care. This would mean that once a person entered into care, they did not move again. The care came to the person, not the person having to move to another facility.

Moving is upsetting and while most of us find change difficult those with even mild dementia find any change totally confusing. Aging in place would allow staff to get to know their patients and patients would feel more comfortable in their familiar surroundings as they moved from one level of care to the next.

My parents were able to be moved together, from an assisted living place to a long-term care placement. We had to choose a place in a different town as five years ago there were only two placements available for couples.

We were lucky as at 90 and 89 years old they had the security of each other, so didn’t feel quite so vulnerable. While both friendly and out-going, it was extrememly difficult on them to make this transition. I can imagine how difficult it would be to be moved and feel and be all alone. Both had complex health needs and I spent hours working with the new staff to ensure their needs were met.

We expect these vulnerable elders to move to a new facility, a new room, new people, new routines and new staff. Is this humane? In some cases couples are split up and other times these patients are moved miles and miles away from their original placements. If they did have family and visitors near by, this often means that those who want to visit are driving hours to see them.

Care aids, licensed practical nurses, cleaning staff, physio therapists, occupational therapists, the handy man, the registered nurses and the nurse practitioner all became part of my parents new care team.

My parents also had to change family doctors and we wanted to find one who would visit the facility. These strangers were providing, in most cases, intimate care, and trust needed to be gained on all fronts. Why do we expect our elders to move and then adapt? We need facilities to offer all levels of care in one location.

My brother and I were a united team and toured facilities before making a choice as to which one we thought would best suit our parents. My husband and I had done the same for his parents seven years earlier and let me tell you, once through the door, we certainly got a feel for the building. There was absolutely no consistently between facilities.

We liked to tour the facility without an appointment. It is often eye-opening.

Some seemed impersonal and cold while others immediately felt welcoming. I always wondered what happened to the seniors with no advocates. It is heart-breaking to think of their bleak future.

We were conscious of how residents were being treated. We watched how staff interacted with each other as well as residents. While some places had luxurious facilities our focus was on the care our loved ones would receive.

We looked for smaller eating areas and clean, happy places where residents weren’t marooned in the hall or at the table. We looked for light. Some places seemed so dreary and as we age we know our eye-sight isn’t as sharp.

One big sign for us was when we were on a tour did the guide stop and chat or smile with residents. Was there a sense of community? Did staff know residents by name? Were there doctors, hair dressers, hearing technicians etc. who visited the facility or would caregivers be responsible for taking the residents to medical and personal care appointments?

Trying to get both my parents into a vehicle, storing their walker and wheelchair and then doing the same thing once at the appointment was an exhausting experience, not just for them, for me too! I looked for accessible transportation but that was a red tape nightmare…….after multiple phone calls, getting numerous letters attesting to the fact my parents actually needed accessible rides finally found me giving up……it was just too much. Why does it have to be so difficult? It felt like everything I tried to access to make my parents life easier was two steps forward and five backwards.

I was a family caregiver for over twenty years and most of my friends have either experienced or are experiencing it now. It is time to actually do something. No more studies! Save the money and actually make some changes.

Ask those of us who have lived the experience and are looking at our future and do not want to put our children through what we went though or go through what our parents endured. We understand. We know the restricitions these facilities live under. Ask staff and listen.

A politician visiting sees an entirely different view than those of us who have spent hours negotiating ‘the system’ watching staff and interacting with residents.

Many more of my thoughts and recommendations are coming soon. What do you think?

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Be An At-Home Hero

BE AN AT-HOME HERO

We have been home from our winter spot for 27 days and it amazes me how our time becomes filled. When the sidewalks aren’t slippery, we head outside for a walk.

My husband had saved his dumbbells from high school and I resented the fact that they were gathering dust in our closet. Now we are both happy to have them! He says he went from a zero to a hero in minutes! I suppose he did……

Being self-isolated gives us a whole new way of looking at our lives. I so look forward to FaceTime calls from our kids and grandkids.

Another friend has set up a weekly 30 minute happy hour on Zoom and it is reassuring to see the faces of the other 9 people and know they are all coping and even learning new things about themselves.

My husband has been phoning friends he hasn’t connected with for at least two years (in some cases 10) and that has been rewarding for him.

We play cards some days and are certainly reading more. We have even begun to watch a series on Netflix, now we have watched all the curling we missed over the winter!

Our groceries are delivered to our door. Today items from Costco arrived. There are certainly ways to cope with remaining safe and trying not to infect others.

Many of our friends were so connected with their adult children, babysitting, helping out where they could etc. We all enjoyed the role. What we are talking about now is how our adult children are coping just fine without our help!

In fact, we think that as this self-isolation continues they are slowing down and enjoying their families in a new way, without our interference. (help!)

We all say how relieved we are that we aren’t doing the home-schooling with our kids as we know how stressful being a parent as well as a teacher must be. Yet as the weeks roll on, routines fall in place and life goes on. We can be cheerleaders we just can’t be on the front lines.

Yesterday a friend said she had been transplanting seedlings in her greenhouse, one is meditating daily, another was making masks and one was finishing off long-forgotten knitting projects.

Others are busy making bread, resurrecting comfort recipes their mom and grandmothers made, and some are finishing off long-forgotten knitting projects.

Perhaps we are all a little more mindful or our time. Instead of rushing from activity to activity we can now take time to think about what is important. We sure don’t have any pressing time commitments!

Before you post something negative on social media, think about your reason. Whose need are you filling? We have 24 hour news channels that torment us minute by minute with conflicting messages. I, for one, don’t need more.

It’s time to focus on what is right with the world instead of what is not. Leaders, who are making huge decisions, are under significant stress. Let’s try to understand that most of these people are doing the very best they can. While we won’t agree with everything, let’s give them a chance.

I believe that as seniors one of our jobs should be to remain positive about what is happening. We have life experience. We know life has many ups and downs and we must continue. It’s time to stop with negative talk, focus on what is right with our world instead of what is wrong and make a difference in the lives of those you love.

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Slow Down and Enjoy…give yourself permission

We are now on our 11th day of self-distancing. Our condo is cleaner than it has ever been. Most of our drawers are tidy and our fridge, freezer and pantry cupboard are finally clearing out.

The graham crackers I took out to make squares were rancid but I found out-of-date yeast still worked. It just took a little longer….don’t we all as we age?

While we always go through social withdrawal when we journey back from Palm Springs. This time it has been Cold Turkey!

Thank heavens one good friend started a journal titled “14 Days of Self-Isolation”… it seems to be going ‘fairly well’ for them with the exception today’s instalment which is titled “14 Days of Incarceration!” The updates have kept us laughing.

We have plenty of time to think. What we have noticed is how we have been forced to slow down and contemplate what really is important.

If you are finding that you too can fill your days and you are thinking about ways to incorporate some of these new habits into your daily life here are

10 Tips for Slowing Down

  1. Control the Controllable
  2. Notice the Small Things
  3. Do Not Compare
  4. Choose 3 Things to Accomplish Each Day
  5. Breathe
  6. Single Task
  7. Take a Day a Week Off
  8. Eat Slower
  9. De:clutter
  10. Count Your Blessings

When we slow down we make a conscious choice to embrace a healthier lifestyle. We can nurture our close relations and feel a sense of self satisfaction with life. Begin your guilt-free slow-down today!

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The Urge To Purge…things to do while in self-isolation

We are home from our winter spot and are on Day 6 our our self-isolation. What better time to begin to purge? As I put clothes away I decided there was no time like the present tackle jobs I have been putting off.

I went on various websites and blogs for information on how to transform our closets. We now have a carry-on sized suitcase full of clothes that can go to charity once we are out of isolation.

Here are some tips if you have the time and feel the urge to get rid of some of your closet clutter.

  1. Pick up a piece of clothing and ask yourself:
  • Have I worn it in the past year?
  • Does it fit properly?
  • Is it out-of-date?
  • Do your clothes fit your present lifestyle?
  1. Have a pile for charity, a pile for consignment, a pile for the garbage and a pile to keep.
  2. Most sites said that 2-3 purses were quite enough and the same with shoes. Shocking isn’t it – until you think about what you have actually used in the past year.

There is more to purging clothes than the simple act. Clothes are very personal and some bring us guilt, when they no longer fit, remind us of happy or sad history and even reflect our personalities. Be gentle with yourself.

I liked the idea that once you are done that you arrange your remaining clothes in colours. It gives you a sense of whether or not you have a coordinated wardrobe. When we were selling our home this was also a tip the ‘home stager’ gave us.

Sorting through closets isn’t just for women – children and men can usually find things they no longer use. Check out your dresser drawers as they might be overflowing with items too.

Now when I look in my closet and see room between the hangars I actually smile. It feels good and even gives me some peace of mind.

Tomorrow I will begin on the kitchen drawers……

How are you doing? Any tips you’d like to share?

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Capturing Your Memories

After my parents passed away there have been times when I have wondered about the story of a memento or thought I have had.

If only I had asked them, I think. I was at a huge advantage as both my parents lived until they were 92 and were excellent at reminiscing.

Still there are times when I wish I had just a little more information. I bet many of you think the same thing.

Over the past three weeks I have been facilitating a course here at Outdoor Resort Palm Springs called Preserving Memories.

The purpose is so that participants can capture their childhood memories for their families. Most of us our in our 60s, 70s and 80s and have begun to think about what is important to leave for our children and grandchildren.

Perhaps a grandchild asked about what we did for fun when there were no computers or our own kids were surprised when we talked about an important event in our life and they had no knowledge.

My role has been one of encouragement and supplying story prompts so that they begin. I’m a big believer that if we simply begin…interesting pieces of information surface.

What we have all learned is that when a member of our group shares a memory it often ignites our own thoughts and something we had long forgotten comes to light.

It’s also important to remember that our written memories don’t have to be long and detailed. Simple thoughts jotted down will delight our intended audience.

One of the first exercises we did was begin to write our own personal timeline. Don’t be overwhelmed simply divide it into ten year periods. I just label a page 0-10, another page 10-20 etc. You could also further break it down into school, family and work if you wish. Some people choose to use a different colour of pencil for each of those categories.

Write down all memories you can come up with during that time. Significant and insignificant things may come up that remind you of another thing and so on. Just keep it near and as you remember jot something down.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When you look at the hammer, can you smell your grandpas’ garage or your dad’s workshop? What did you do there? Were you allowed to help? Did you learn how to use tools? Did you ever hit your finger? How old were you?

How many of you used a rotary phone? For some of us this was a huge upgrade over the wall phone with no numbers. We used the handle at the side to ring or had to call an operator.

Think about your senses as you write and jot down memories including some of the things you saw, smelt, felt or heard.

Who can smell homemade bread after school? What about the feeling when you won a crystal marble during a game at recess? Who had school clothes and play or work clothes?

We have so many rich memories to capture why not start to today?

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Travelling is Good Medicine!

We just got back to our winter home after a fabulous trip. We were gone from home from December 10th to February 1. We cruised around South East Asia and New Zealand and spent land days in Australia.

As we were on the last long fight I began thinking about the memories we were planting. I remember my parents sitting in their easy chairs reminiscing about holidays. Another aunt had kept detailed journals and she said they spent many long winter hours reading the journals and reliving the happy travelling days.

I’m not a journal keeper. When a friend said that she hoped I would keep a record of our travels I decided to take her advice. I only wrote a short page each day in a journal a friend had given me. It was a chore yet I was determined to be successful. Now I’m happy I did.

With cell phones we are able to kept photo records and my smart phone even tells us where the photos were taken. I find the written record record gives me that many more memory prompts…something I need more and more these days.

I also decided that travelling gives seniors confidence. We had to navigate large airports, Amsterdam, Singapore, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Los Angeles and Vancouver before touching down in Calgary. And we made it!

We mostly mastered money exchange, reading maps as we walked and explored and found delight in new experiences. We ate food we had not before, went to places we had only read about and met people from around the world.

An added bonus was my brother and his wife joined us on the 13 day cruise around New Zealand. We found as children grow, parents pass away and life becomes more complicated plus energy wanes, we don’t spend much time together. This was a time to reconnect.

One of my uncles has always encouraged us to travel. He and his wife did some great trips and his advice is “Do It Now!.”

My parents went away each winter and I remember missing them and yet I also didn’t feel I should make time to see them or give a phone call. When raising kids and working I was busy and while I never begrudged the time spent with phone calls and visits it was a relief when I was in my 30s and 40s to have a bit of a break!

So I encourage my readers to pack their bags and explore. You will be building memories, gaining confidence and between you and me “Giving your kids peace of mind that you are happy and healthy.”

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Memories of my Grandma

Grandma in her hockey uniform in the late 1800s.
Grandma in her hockey uniform in the late 1800s

I sometimes wonder what memories I’m planting for my grandchildren. Here are memories of my beloved Grandma Cora…

I could see Grandma out in her yard pulling weeds. Her sack-like patterned dress billowed in the breeze just like fresh clean shirts on our clothesline. Her stockings gathered up like loose skin of an elephant around her ankles and her hair was wound into a tight braided bun low on the back of her head.

A smile creased my face and heart as I ran towards her. I snuggled in for a hug and cuddle as I reached up and put my arms around her face. I loved the way her wrinkly soft skin brushed my cheek like crushed velvet.

I placed my hand in hers and we headed into the house. As the door opened I caught a whiff of something that brought tears to my eyes.

“Are you making lye soap Grandma?”

That noxious smell permeated the landing and up the two stairs into her tiny kitchen.

Mom stepped forward and gave me the evil eye so I knew better than to make a comment that might hurt Grandma’s feelings.

I felt like a pop bottle that had been shook. When was mom leaving so I could start my summer holiday with Grandma?

The table was already set for lunch. Cold tomatoes nestled in a little fruit dish placed at the tip of the knives, canned sausages, fried brown and crisp butter-fried potatoes. Relief flooded through me as I saw only two place settings. Soon Grandma Cora and I would be all alone. Then the fun would begin.

Fun for Grandma and I was different than with my other younger grandma. Grandma Cora told me stories about growing up in Quebec, playing on a hockey team with a long skirt and tobogganing on the snowy cold hills.

She didn’t talk much about packing up her steamer trunk, boarding a coal train and heading out west at 19 years of age to teach school in the prairies so she could decide if her love for my grandpa would last the prairie winters. One year later they were married.

We talked about politics, how I was doing in school, and stories of her youth. Then she would play the piano and I would sing. She taught me many songs and while I loved to sing I never had the patience to learn the piano even though my parents invested time and money in lessons.

Grandma Cora would often tell me the same stories and I loved to hear about the naughty little boy who when asked to say grace at a dinner party said “Darn dittie darn, dittie darn ,dittie dittie darn” and then was spanked all the way to his bedroom. The mother was absolutely mortified at her son’s strong language. Needless to say the dinner party was a much talked about event!

When I stayed with her I had to have a nap in the afternoon. Mom had given up on those for me when I was two. Grandma had a special grey bedroom suite with drawers in the headboard and a beautiful great dresser that “would one day be mine” and that was where I was to lay quietly and rest.

I would lay for a really long time, at least in my brain, then tiptoe toe into her room and listen to her breathing to make sure she was sound asleep. Then I would sneak back to “my room” and amuse myself by snooping through the dresser and headboard drawers drawers. I can’t even remember what was in them, it was just fun to do something naughty!

Even in junior high I loved to stay with Grandma. Her house had a Grandma Cora smell and I always felt loved and safe there. Grandma always had a twinkle in her eye and was quick witted. She didn’t suffer fools and her humour often was black.

My family moved and my visits were less frequent through high school and yet when Grandma came to our house I knew we would share laughter, great jokes and lots of fun. I would hear her favourite stories and bask in the traditions I loved.

When I was in university Grandma took a fall and broke her hip. She was transported to a city hospital and because she was malnourished and dehydrated the doctors couldn’t operate until she was “built up”.

She was in the city where I went to University and I went to visit her and was shocked at how tiny and frail she looked. I could also tell she was mixed up and emotional. She didn’t realize where she was or that she was hurt. She kept asking where Doug was – her bachelor son who she was living with when all this happened.

Eventually she had the surgery and was placed in a Calgary Nursing Home. I often stopped to visit on my way home from university. I would reminisce and remind her of the stories she had once lovingly told me. Sometimes I helped her to the toilet and often took her to her meals. I’d light up a a cigarette for a lady who sat in the hall so she could smoke with supervision. Grandmas eyes would glint and she’d say “Aren’t you the brat, I’ll not tell your dad or mom if you don’t!” We had another secret.

While I could see her fading before my eyes I knew she was a ‘grandma” and this was simply the way life evolved. At 92 she was moved to another level of care and spent most of her days in bed. I got married and had our first child and my visits to grandma weren’t as often.

When I did visit I would hold her hand and often sing to her. If she was having a good day I’d wheel her to the piano and request she play Red Wing or Oh Them Golden Slippers and she would play them by ear just as she had done since she was five years old. After one or two songs she would say “Enough Joanie, you’re going to kill this old lady, take me back to bed.” We’d both giggle and head back.

Grandma Cora passed away at 94. Her aging process, as well as my maternal grandparents was simply part of life. I naively thought as my parents and in-laws aged, I was ready.

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Importance of Friendship As We Age

Joan

As we age it is important to retain friendships. While some friends are meant to come and go, others last a life-time.

It is important to nurture all friendships. Reaching out, sending notes and listening. Even surprising friends with little meaningful gifts can create a bond that lasts a lifetime.

A dear friend found this note as she was going through her mom’s things. It was folded and tucked into her baby photos. A precious gift to find many years after her mom passed away. It rings true for me. I bet it will for you too.

  1. Time passes
  2. Life happens
  3. Distance separates
  4. Children grow up
  5. Lifestyles change
  6. Jobs come and go
  7. Love waxes and wanes
  8. Hearts break
  9. Parents die
  10. Careers end
  11. We all experience disappointment, disillusionment, and loss of hope one time or another

And still:

“Sisters” are there, no matter how much times and how many miles are between us. A girlfriend is never farther away than needing her can reach.

When you have to walk that lonesome valley and you have to walk it by yourself, the women in your life will be on the valley’s rise, cheering you on, praying for you, pulling for you, intervening on your behalf, and waiting with open arms at the valley’s end.

Sometimes, they will even break the rules and walk beside you…………or come in and carry you out!

Girlfriends, daughters, granddaughters, daughter-in-laws, sisters, sister-in-laws, mothers, grandmothers, aunties, nieces, cousins and extended family all bless our life.

The world wouldn’t be the same without women, and neither would I. We all have no idea of the incredible joys or sorrows that lay ahead. Nor could we have known how much we would need each other.

Friends are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait for an answer.

Ed Cunningham

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Change Happens…how can you support it?

It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.

Charles Darwin

How do we let go of old habits? How do we accept change? Just because we always did ‘it’ one way does not mean that is the correct way. If we are going to continually wish for things to remain the same how will we grow?

I remember a person who was the treasurer of the United Church Women’s Group. People gently tried to get her to relinquish her position. She would not. Other members of the executive were the same. Within five years the group collapsed. If we can’t accept change, we become stagnant.

Too often I see young, enthusiastic employees or volunteers try to start a new program or do things differently only to be met with opposition and grumbling. Whether at church, the community centre or the spot you live, we seniors are sometimes seen as blockers or a negative force. “We always did it this way.”

How, as seniors, do we stay fresh and able to accept change and transitions gracefully? I feel strongly that our role now is to be a supporter and a sounding board. It’s our time to step back and let the young become involved.

Remember when you began a new job or started a volunteer position? Enthusiasm and great ideas flowed. Sure we made mistakes, that’s how we learned. Let’s be the wise ones who say “go for it.”

Instead of looking for what is wrong with the idea, let’s look at what’s right. Let’s be looked at as a positive, helpful senior not a grumpy old man or woman. Only we can change the way people view seniors.

They say it takes 21 days to change a habit. Beginning today if a negative thought pops into your head when a new idea is suggested, can you make a positive comment instead?

You can say, “have you thought about…?” or give an opinion, if asked. Let’s begin to be looked on as someone who is thoughtful yet progressive.

Can you go through a day without saying something negative? Challenge yourself to look for what’s right with the world instead of what’s wrong.

Over our lifetimes we’ve seen lots of tragedies and sadness. Let’s not be the cause of someone else’s sadness or stress. Let’s encourage and inspire.

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Seniors and Driving…when do we give up our car?

One of the most difficult conversations my husband had with his father was trying to persuade him not to drive anymore.

We had the warning signs, dents and scraps on the vehicle and sides of the garage. He had macular degeneration and we could tell his eyes were failing.

At one point the family doctor suggested he stay close to home and for the most part he did. Our fear was that he was close to a school and had to back out of his garage over the sidewalk where young children walked to and from school.

He tended to do things quickly and what if he backed over a child? We felt it would be our fault if we didn’t suggest it was time to give up the keys.

His wife had also told our daughter (not us) that after cataract surgery he told the eye doctor he had a ride home. He did not. He drove home across the city and bounced off the median a number of times. That told us his decision-making wasn’t up to par.

Finally he went for an experimental treatment on his eyes, which did not work, and the doctor told him he could not drive anymore.

Bob had driven him to the appointment and had spoken to the doctor beforehand so knew the results. On the drive home Bob asked his dad what the doctor had told him.

“I’m fine to drive now,” was the answer. Bob said, “That’s not what I heard.” His dad argued so Bob said “Let’s turn around and both ask the doctor so we know the correct answer.”

There was a pause and his dad said “drive me home.” The good news was he did not drive again.

We knew how much his pride had been hurt. It meant loosing independence. We tried to be available when needed and drive his parents places because, like most seniors of that age, they simply refused to take cabs, UPBER or LYFT. “Too expensive.”

Now is the time to start the conversation with your future caregivers as well as your partner or spouse about how you will decide when it is no longer safe to drive.

According to the AARP here are ten signs it’s time to limit or stop driving:

  1. Almost crashing, or close calls
  2. Finding dents, scrapes on the car, fences, mailboxes and garage doors at home
  3. Getting lost, especially in familiar places
  4. Having trouble following traffic signals, road signs and payment markings
  5. Responding more slowly to unexpected situations, or having trouble moving foot from brake to gas, consuming the two pedals
  6. Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps
  7. Experiencing road rage or causing other drives to honk or complain
  8. Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving
  9. Having a hard time turning around to check the rear mirror while backing up or changing lanes
  10. Receiving multiple traffic tickets or warnings from law enforcement

Some of these signs can apply to younger people or people with medical conditions too. It’s not just seniors that have issues with driving. One would hope we will self-police but if our judgement is comprimised we just aren’t capable. We might not notice our reflexes are slower as well as our thinking.

From the time dad was 70, he often had the conversation with my brother and I that we were to tell him when we thought he should no longer drive. He didn’t say it just once he repeated it over many years. We plan to do the same.

We noticed he was driving slower and sometimes holding up traffic. He told us if he became tired he would just pull over and have a nap then continue his journey. My mom thought that was just fine. At 89 years old he hadn’t had an accident and yet we decided it was time “to have the talk.”

My brother said he would do it. My husband and I took a meal out to my parents the next day. When we sat down for dinner, dad looked straight at me and said “Ken says I shouldn’t drive anymore.” I looked at him and said “I agree.” He then looked at Bob and repeated the same statement and Bob answered that he too agreed.

Dad looked sad and then we continued to enjoy the meal. He never drove again yet we kept his vehicle as it was easy for them to get in and out of and he could pay for the gas and upkeep and that seemed to help a little.

So begin to have the conversation with your future caregivers as well as your children or trusted friends. Give them permission to tell you when they feel it is no longer safe for you to drive.

I have researched the cost of driving as opposed to taking cabs etc. It shows that if you are only going to be going about 9655 kilometres (6000 miles) a year it is cheaper to cab it or use public transportation.

Here are some of the things to consider.

Add up:

  1. Cost of the care/5 years
  2. Cost of maintenance
  3. Cost of insurance
  4. cost of taxes etc.

Divide this number by the number of kilometres/miles travelled and that will equal the true cost per mile of owning a car.

I watched as both sets of our parents aged and they really didn’t drive all that far. So for them, it would have made sense to use other modes of transportation. It certainly would have been easier on my husband and I.

One friend, whose parents lived in the country, hired a young student to take her parents into town twice a week for groceries, appointments and a meal out. This deal was beneficial to both.

We hired a service to pick up our mom for her weekly hair appointment. What we couldn’t convince our parents to do was hire a cab for other trips.

“It’s too expensive!” they would say. Yet for me to drive out to my parents, a 40 minutes drive, pick them up take them here and there, drop them off and then drive home, didn’t seem to phase them.

I never minded, yet sure found it tiring. It also ended up taking most of my day. Let’s not do that to our kids. Let’s start talking to each other and maybe take a cab a few places just to get used to it.

If we have to give up driving we have multiple options. Let’s be wise enough to identify them now.

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The Dreaded “F” Word for Seniors

Keep Moving!

The National Council of Aging says that one in four Americans over the age of 65 will take a fall each year. I recently read in the local newspaper about the owner of Bills Pizza, a restaurant in Palm Springs, who died as a result of a fall off the roof of his restaurant.

Within our park a fellow fell off his rig and broke his hip a few years ago and he says it has changed his life. Another fellow fell off a ladder. He isn’t able do many activities he used to enjoy. This summer, another fellow was up a ladder and fell and as a result passed away.

Perhaps at a certain age you might want to think about hiring help for activities such as climbing ladders, lifting heavy objects, shovelling snow, cutting grass and twisting your body in ways that you haven’t done for a while. As we age we just don’t heal as quickly as we used to so any damage we do to our bodies may be life changing.

So why all the falls? I know from experience that I am more tippy than I used to be. I do think about climbing anything as my balance isn’t what it used to be. Falls take a toll on us physiologically and often after a big one, we may even limit our social and physical activity for fear of falling again. That is not good.

Keeping moving is important for seniors. We really must think about ways to stay safe and yet move. Lots of people are taking up new sports as they age. This is great as long as they go at it slowly and thoughtfully.

Causes of falls in seniors can be due to vision loss, infections, medication which causes dizziness, dehydration can also cause dizziness, poor lighting, moving quicker than our brain can think and poor flexibility and coordination. What can we do?

In the research it says to look at these four areas when you think of your physical activity:

  1. Endurance: includes such activities as brisk walking, hiking, pickleball, tennis, swimming and biking
  2. Balance: activities such as tai chi, yoga, standing on one foot while brushing your teeth, laying down a piece of tape and walking a straight line and eye-tracking exercises (there are some on U-Tube)
  1. Strength: think about arm curls, chair dips and knee curls
  2. Flexibility: various stretching exercises for your neck, back, legs and ankles

Aquasizes, when taught by a qualified instructor, is one of the most recommended activities as it is easier on our joints. As a senior we are cautioned not to try any exercise until we have checked with our physician.

If you have a friend to accompany you, you are more likely to keep it up. Try not to go too hard at anything. Take rest days so your muscles can heal.

One piece of research said that while our healing processes have performed notably for many years, as we age they just aren’t quite so efficient. It’s sure a fact with me, I take longer to rebound from any injury and sometimes I’m wiped after an overly busy day!

So before you climb that ladder, shovel the whole driveway without a break or twist to fit under a vehicle, maybe you want to think. We wise in your life choices.

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Thanksgiving…count your many blessings

Celebrating Thanksgiving with Friends

I can remember following my Grandmother around the house trying to figure out what she was saying. When I asked she said “I’m counting my blessings.” My grandma was wise. Science shows if we focus on our blessings our lives are enriched.

In Canada we celebrated our Thanksgiving yesterday. I’m feeling blessed as I think about all the reasons I am thankful. So here are my blessings today.

  1. I am thankful for all the relationships I have made over my 66 years. As I age I realize how important all relationships are to my well-being.
  2. I find I am much more honest about what I need. If I feel like reading all morning I can. To my surprise, I’ve realized my ‘batteries’ get charged by being alone. I try to honour that.
  3. I don’t have as many set commitments so I am able to spend more time with loved ones. What a blessing.
  4. I am blessed to be able to pursue some life-long dreams.
  5. I fell blessed because I have learned not to worry about things I can not control. If I can’t fix it my focus becomes one of accepting what I cannot change.
  6. Because many close friends have not had the opportunity to age, I try to feel blessed for the new aches and pains… just because I am still here to actually feel them!
  7. I’m blessed that I can choose to learn new things. (Learning the ins and out of WordPress where I create this Blog is definitely stretching.)
  8. I’m blessed because I have time to meet new people and hear new ideas. I value the gift of time.
  9. I feel blessed I am able watch my grandchildren and grandnieces and nephews grow up. What a gift to watch.
  10. I feel blessed that I can be more forgiving not just of others, also myself. With more experiences and wisdom I’m able to be much kinder.

What are your blessings each day?

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Celebrate Aging

Mom with her second great grandchild. They met 16 of their 17 greats!

Mom with her second great grandchild. She met 16 of the 17 “grands” and she and dad were very much a part of their lives. They kept in touch with their grandchildren via phone and always made reports to my brother and I about the latest great grandchild story.

I’ve been thinking about my parents. They both lived till they were 92. My dad’s mom lived till she was 94!

I like to think of them as pioneers – brave because they explored new frontiers. Not many people, in their generation, lived as long.

I think they wanted our family to see them as vital and engaged. They watched the news, read books and were generally interested in the world around them. Mom walked most days and dad was always at ‘the farm’ helping.

I know they felt loneliness and pain yet they tried not to continually focus on that. Until the last year of both their lives, when anyone visited mom and dad were interested in their families and lives and that made the visitor feel important.

When I read books about people who have lived past 100, there is a common theme. Move every day, even if it hurts. While walking is recommended, any activity that gets you out and about is key. Be wise when you chose an activity. Acknowledge that your body may not be up for a rigorous work out, the important thing is to move.

Be social. Talk to others, even on the bus or coffee shop. Phone someone. Identify a lonely person and see if you can cheer them up. The centertians all made an effort to get out or invite someone over.

Focus on the present and the future and then define a purpose each day. Most of the centurions interviewed in the two books I read said that they woke up in the morning thinking about what they could accomplish that day.

One joked it was to get her compression socks on so she could go for a walk! Another said it was to find a way to open the peanut butter jar. Definitely a sense of humour helps…

While their goal might be less than when they were in their 60s, 70s or 80s, they still identified a goal. Not all of them named it a goal. It was simply a reason to get up, get dressed and move.

We have great models to observe at our winter home. We live in an active-living recreational vehicle park. Only motor homes and fifth wheels are allowed. One has to be in pretty good physical shape just to navigate the stairs into a recreational vehicle so this becomes a goal for most living here.

People up to 90 year olds are out walking most days, learning or playing pickle ball and tennis, directing choir, teaching ukelele, bike-riding, getting holes in one on the golf course, hiking and hosting resort-wide dinners.

Many residents have had knees, shoulders, hips replaced, have battled diseases or are caring for an ill loved-one. It doesn’t seem to slow them down, they just do it! There is lots of help from other residents as we don’t spend much time in our 400 square foot ‘homes.’ We get to know others quickly as we see most every day. We like to be out in the sun and therefore, without even noticing, we are more active.

So what is your purpose today? Have you got out and moved? Who have you chatted with? Have you learned anything? Have you helped someone?

We too are pioneers as we navigate through our aging process. What are we modelling?

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Baby Boomer Letter to Caregiver

Do It Now!

Dear Kids,

I’m writing this letter to give you permission to make tough decisions for Bob and I, if and when the time comes. Defining the time will be difficult as we may not agree that we do need help and so we might not want to hear from you. Preserve; keep us safe.

You see, when we think about ourselves we don’t see “old.” We see ourselves vital and thriving. The only time we feel old is when we look in the mirror or find ourselves exhausted doing something that used to be easy.

As we watched you grow and choose your life-partners we felt so proud of you. Now as you raise your children we see you being loving, supportive and strong, as you give your children tools to become independent, contributing citizens. We found it much easier making decisions for you, our children, than for our aging parents! Sorry!!!!

ALWAYS remember we love and respect you and would move the world to make you happy. That is our unconditional love. Try to keep this front and centre if we say something nasty or ask for something that you simply can’t or don’t have time to do.

Over the next years, if we are blessed enough to age as our parents did, our relationship will change. Parenting a parent is not easy. The relationship is complicated.

Our experience, with aging parents, was difficult. Bob’s parents were challenging and although my parents had a plan and made their wishes known, it was no walk in the park either.

Physically, emotionally and even financially they were challenging. We want your journey easier and give you permission to keep your marriages and children and maybe even grandchildren (fingers crossed!) front and centre.

We had our time of spending winters in Palm Springs, holidaying when we wanted, and driving to events when we were so inclined. Now we expect you to carry on and enjoy yourselves. Never put anything on hold. We give you permission to step in and make some unpopular decisions as our decision-making powers may be compromised. While we are still in our right mind, or so we think, please understand this is what we want!

We have tried to make the road a little easier by down-sizing early, telling you we don’t want to live with you, even if we may say we do, and even picking out our final ‘resting place.’ Our wills are written, we have filled out personal directives and our power of attorney. You have copies. These forms may change and we plan to keep them updated. You may want to remind us occasionally.

As you know, we think that assisted living and later continuous care are the correct routes. We don’t want an expensive place with lots of bells and whistles. It must be clean and have a qualified, caring staff. You will get a sense of the place as soon as you walk in for tour.

We will try to pick out one just as my parents did. It certainly made it easier when dad said “This is a horrible place – all I look at are the garbage containers,” we could think “ you did choose it.”

I still felt sad when I said good-bye after each visit, yet I was relieved because it was what they had wanted. It was also important to me that they were safe, had regular meals and got their medication. We want you to have that same reassurance.

I hope you are able to work together as a team with your partners, in the background, as your support. My brother and I made all the decisions, without our partners in attendance, to keep things less complicated and smoother. Sometimes in-laws can complicate decisions. It’s one tip that really helped us.

Just remember that we love you all more than words can ever express. Keep us safe and carry on with your own lives. Age has a way of creeping up much faster than you will anticipate!

Love,

Mom

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More Rules for Healthy Aging

” You do not grow old; you become old from not growing.”

Think About the Kind of Care You Want

# Educate yourself on ‘the system’ – in our province it’s a moving target- ever changing- I liken it to trying to grab jello – it’s complex – I often found it impenetrable. Find out what support services are available for seniors. Were they designed for people who did not live as long as we are expected to? What jurisdictions fund what programs or services? Write letters. Ask your candidates questions. Baby boomers must take action now and design and demand what you want your care to look like:

  • What does quality care look like to you?
  • How can the system be responsive to individual needs?
  • Do you want to age in place? At this point, this option is cost prohibitive and only works if you are wealthy. Often aging in place means more work for your caregivers.
  • If you need 24 hour medical care what does that look like?

My in-laws were adamant that they not want to go into an assisted living facility. They also resisted most offers of help. What this meant for my husband and I was that we were their support. We brought meals, planted flowers, mowed grass and shovelled snow. Do you want that responsibility on your care-givers? After a medical crisis, and with the assistance of a transition nurse who would not release my father-in-law from hospital until home-care and meals on wheels were in place, we had some help. What a relief for us. Little did we know this was not as wonderful as we initially thought. Home care in Alberta is limited and workers seemed rushed and stressed. Also the workers rotate so just when my mother-in-law was comfortable, a new care aid arrived. We did discover that there was a mobile blood service who would come to their home to get blood samples, thus saving us. It always felt like one step forward and two back.

Have you looked at assisted living facilities and long-term care? When my husband and I were looking for his parents we got tours and most times we got a feeling of how it was run quickly. What was the ratio of medical aids to clients? What times were meals hosted? My parents moved into an assisted living facility, of their choice, that had breakfast at 7:00a.m. and lunch at 11:00 and dinner at 4……all to accommodate the long-term care residents in the other part of the building. We never asked about meal times! My dad liked to sleep in so this was an issue, and after dinner it was a very long evening for them. Plus the nutrition cart only came by occasionally……. while the staff assured us there were snacks in the fridge, my parents were not up to going to find them. If you want to be in control, I suggest you start to seriously think about what will you do if something happens to one of you. Or if you get to a point where you cannot care for yourself. Figure it out now. Don’t make your caregivers….

Our friends and I used to joke that we would have the carpenter in the group build us a group home. We would know all residents and hire staff to help. The kids wouldn’t have to visit us so often as we all knew everyone so one visit would please us all. We would hire a cook, a cleaner, a care aid, buy a van to haul us around, have a driver we could use (not us!) and a nurse practitioner. While we laughed about it in our 40s we now wonder if it isn’t the way to go!

When we checked out the cost of many of the private “active living” facilities we knew we couldn’t afford them.

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More Rules for Healthy Aging

Here are some more thoughts about aging you might want to think about and discuss with your partner or potential caregivers. Let everyone know your thoughts and wishes. (See the thought for the day at the end of this article)

# Be ready to graciously accept or pay for help even when you don’t think you need it. If someone suggests you might benefit from support, accept it. While you might not want it, think about your caregiver and if you hire some services you will be giving them peace of mind. They may be worried about you. Think of others instead of yourself.

Areas to have conversations with your ‘truth teller’ include:

  • cleaning …as we age our eyes age and we don’t notice dirt like we used to. If you aren’t able to keep up, what will you do?
  • hearing aides…one friend’s children were convinced she had dementia until she started wearing hearing aids. Have you had a hearing test lately? It might be time.
  • mobility aids such as canes, wheelchairs, walkers, suitable footwear, washable clothes etc. If you are tippy or using the furniture to move around the room, it’s time to think about some kind of support. Look at your shoes. How safe are they?
  • driver service…if you are unable to drive and want to retain your independence hire a taxi, take a bus or look into finding a regular driver. Have you had that conversation with your partner or caregiver to give them permission NOT to become your driver?
  • meal preparation and grocery shopping…eating healthy is a huge precursor for remaining healthy (tea and toast won’t do it!) Think about what you would do if you couldn’t prepare meals.

Our daughter told me that her grandparents bathroom was ‘gross’ and something had to be done. I had no time to become a cleaning lady so my husband and I tried to approach the subject. A strong NO was our answer. Finally when we thought it was becoming a health issue my husband took his parents for a day-long outing and myself and a cleaning lady cleaned the main floor. My in-laws were so angry they didn’t talk to us for weeks. Finally when things cooled down they decided they would allow a cleaning lady once every two weeks.

Both sets of parents thought nothing of having us drive them to appointments. I wondered if they subconsciously thought since we were the ones who said, “no more driving” they decided then we could do it!……For me it meant a 50-60 minute drive to pick them up, a 50 minute drive into the city for an appointment, then back. By the time I got home I would be exhausted from lifting walkers, wheelchairs and negotiating parkades etc. My husband’s parents decided to take a driving service one day to see one of their relatives. ( We were out of town) It cost them close to $100 and they were shocked and yet never seemed to realize the time and effort their caregivers put in. They never used the service again and we remained their designated drivers.

5. Move your body every day. Go for a walk. Swim, take an exercise class. Find a television show program for chair exercises. Walk around your home or neighbourhood. Find a friend or neighbour who likes to go for walks. If you try a new activity or exercise, begin slowly so you don’t injure yourself. Regular exercise is important for your overall well being. My husband says once you retire exercise needs to become your job.

Thought for the day:

“We always think old age is 10 years older than we are!”

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REWIRE BEFORE YOU EXPIRE

Introduction

I didn’t write for six years. My parents and my husband’s parents would be shocked and then heartbroken to think they had caused my caregiver burnout.

I don’t blame them. I was responsible. I wanted to support them. They had been great parents for us.

For 37 years I was the front-line family caregiver. Bob’s parents left this world in 2009 and 2011; my dad passed away in 2015; and when my mom passed away in 2017 I was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted.

My supportive husband and brother lightened th load. We were not financially burdened, as is the case with many family caregivers. As the writer and editor of a provincial family caregiver newsletter I was aware of resources, programs and assistance.

What I discovered though, despite community supports, my responsibilities became that of a full-time patient coordinator. Our medical system was complicated and there was no such thing as one-stop shopping.

Friends started to ask for advice when they began their caregiving experience. I directed them to the proper resources, pointed out programs they might not be aware of and provided much needed empathy for their journey.

Consciously I added “Let this experience make you think about how you age. What can you do to make the caregiving journey easier for your children or designated caregivers?”

I’d also caution caregivers to not just step in and help. Was there better ways to support, without taking away control?

Governments are spending huge dollars for care of seniors. Do we need to think differently about what aging baby boomers need?

It is my hope that this blog causes you to think about the way you age and to consider some tough questions and then take plans.

An Unexpected Gift

Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

Self isolation during this pandemic has given us the gift of time…something to savour or save for later. For me, it is to consciously slow down. It’s been an interesting exercise.

I am now aware of my speed when eating, I don’t rush when I’m cooking or baking, I try to focus on the job at hand and not accomplish two or three things at once and when I phone a friend I don’t multi-task. Most times I’m successful and when I find my mind wandering I try to rope it in!

This really isn’t in my nature so when I’m reading I now have a piece of paper close by and I attempt to write down whatever pops in my mind so I can concentrate just on reading. It’s an on-going difficult exercise because even as I’m writing this I am thinking of things to do and what I want to accomplish next.

My exercise of choice has always been walking. I enjoy walking with a friend and chatting as we go. The time passes quickly and I come home stimulated and happy. The struggle has always been… do I want to waste the hour on walking when I have so much I could accomplish.

My husband strongly believes that when retired one of our jobs needs to be our daily fitness. So if I can keep his mind-set I must work walking into my day. We live on the 16th floor of a condo apartment building and walking the stairs would certainly be advised even when I think …do I have time and how boring. Now, I have absolutely no reason to avoid the stairs. I have the time……

I’ve never been a movie or television watcher and when I do watch I play on my IPAD, sort papers, clean silverware, walk in and out of the room as I like to accomplish some other task. Now I am consciously trying to just concentrate on the show or movie. Not easy at all and I’m still not successful!

By nature I’m messy. Piles of things don’t bother me and so in our small condo I am trying to find places for everything. I have to consciously think if I take it out, it must go back. When a task is completed I am trying to clean up immediately. I know I have the time. I don’t have the excuse that I must rush off to the next event.

I’m not always winning this one as right now I have clothes that need ironing and folding draped over a living room chair…..learning new habits take 21 days and while we have been in self-isolation for 57 days I guess I’m still trying to change this life-long habit!

I am also thinking of new ways to connect with friends and family. Phone calls, ZOOM meetings and writing letters have become an important part of my day. I took the time to write all our grandchildren a letter.

I do wonder if our 17 month old grand daughter will think we live in the IPHONE! The other grandkids happily chat to us on FaceTime as they wander around the house so we get excellent views of the ceiling, floors and walls…sometimes I need a anti-nausea drug after these chats!

COVID is giving us all the gift of time. How are you using yours? What has been your biggest learning during this COVID 19 pandemic? How do you think you will change once we begin to venture back into our world?