Column 13-Helping others while allowing independence is important for all ages

As we think about providing care for our children, grandchildren, elderly parents or other friends and loved ones; do we see the development of hope as one positive aspect of their lives? Hope can also be described, among other words, as faith, confidence and courage. When I think of contributing to another person’s life, I hope that I am providing some hope in their life. Certainly my goal is to contribute to their level of self-confidence, however, if I become too helpful, I could end up taking away some of their self-reliance by doing too much for them. And that doesn’t mean that I’m any less caring, but there may be times when stepping in to take on more functions within their lives may be needed. However, I just need to be aware of how much assistance they really need.
This is an issue that has become clearer and clearer to me over the years. Teaching and encouraging will help much more than warning a person and doing it all for them. This becomes more evident when we’re caring for older people because having choices and input into how we choose to live our lives contributes much to our level of health and happiness. It can be hard to watch someone we love spending their days in ways we do not believe is best for them. We may be concerned when they choose to take part in different activities than they used to; or if we believe they may be coming down with some sort of illness. Research has shown us that even though a person may need a great deal of care, they still need to be able to have input on decisions that affect their lives. We can actually do more harm than good to a person if we take over their decision making. A person needs to feel some control over their lives in order to feel satisfied with their life. If all decisions are being made for them, and things being done to them, research has shown that people living with this higher constraint in their lives are less satisfied and in poorer health.
As we age, we may undergo many changes that contribute to us losing control of our lives. We may lose our ability to walk freely and we then get back our control through the use of walking aids or perhaps getting a wheelchair in order to give us some mobility again. Some people might see using a walking aid as a constraint, I prefer to see it as a tool to keep us more independent. In addition to physical losses we usually have financial losses that affect us as well, although some people do experience more financial freedom as they age because they receive a regular income that they may not have had when they were younger.
A loss that I dread is the day that I can no longer safely drive myself. The loss of being able to independently get behind the wheel and head off somewhere when I want to is a massive loss, especially to those who have driven vehicles all their lives. Another huge loss that many people have to deal with is moving from their home into a care facility. This move can often be a huge blessing in disguise though, as they no longer have to worry about paying bills, getting meals and maintaining a home; but it’s still a huge loss, particularly with regards to their independence.
Believe it or not there are many services and opportunities that are aimed at ensuring people have independence in their lives. Home care services are in place to assist people in remaining in their homes with their pets, belongings, memories and surroundings that are important to them, for as long as it’s possible. Long term care homes have resident councils so people have the opportunity to express their opinions in ways that can be considered when supports, care and programs are being planned for them. A large number of studies carried out over the past 40+ years have influenced these types of practices. For example, some studies compared situations where the older population had very little say in what activities they took part in, to those who had more input. The results consistently showed that the less control the people had, the more negative effects on their emotional status, their functioning, personal well-being and on their physical health.
So what does this all mean? I believe this is a very important concept for everyone to understand because it is something that affects all of us. Think about yourselves, how do you feel when you feel like you have no control over some aspects of your life? It’s not a good feeling, is it? The truth is, at some point in our lives we’ll have to deal with the stuff life throws at us, over which we have no control. But if we maintain as much control of our lives that we can, our mental and physical health will benefit as we age. I believe that taking away choice just because a person is older is a form of ageism, discrimination because of age. I challenge each of us, myself included, to observe more deeply how we can and do encourage independence for our older population. So when we come up short on this issue, let’s work together to find a better way of going about things. Hope is courage and courage gives us the chance to make our own decisions for as long as we can – and that’s a benefit to all of us.

Column 12- Make ageing a positive experience


What do you think about getting older? Do you feel it is something to dread, or to look forward to? The power of thought is very important and how we believe something will happen, will actually affect how it does happen. If you don’t believe me then think about all the advice you have probably given people over the years, like ‘believe in yourself’, ‘you can do it’, ‘you will get that…’ Hopefully, you have spoken to yourself this way too.
Have you read the book ‘The Secret’, or watched the documentary on it? When I watched the DVD I thought back through my life and I could see where I had applied the principles it talks about in the film. I had withdrawn from university for personal reasons in my early 20s and when I decided to return to my studies, I envisioned finishing my courses and then working in a great career. Similarly, when I envision getting older I imagine the freedom and fun it can bring. I accept that there are challenges along the way and that I physically need to adjust how I do things, or what stuff I take on, but I visualize doing and taking on new hobbies and attending events I do not have time for right now.
I recently read a fascinating article on research, about the perception people have of ageing, and found out that those persons who picture ageing more positively, actually had a more positive ageing experience. I have worked with the older population throughout my entire life and I do not know if that has provided me with the positive outlook that I have, or if it is just the person that I am. I have worked with many people who require a high level of care so it is not like I have only experienced the most positive side of ageing – I just tend to have a positive outlook about it all. I see the wisdom that comes with it, even with cognitive decline for some; I see the joys, even with the heartbreak; I see the influence the older population has on the next generation, and without it I do not know where we would be – but I believe that we are definitely richer for it, from many aspects. I do not believe it is the senior population that has caused our public service woes; but what I do believe is that the lack of reflecting, with respect, on what they have done over the years has resulted in us not learning from those who have lived and worked in the years before us.
I cannot help but relate this topic to a Socrates quote, ‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.’ Of course, this quote can be applied to many aspects of life, but when I read it I thought of the building of new challenges and joys as we get older, rather than always trying to hang onto the youth that does slip away. This is not to say we cannot continue to act and be young and joyful, but we do need to focus on what we can continue doing and keep doing it as e get older. Maybe our golf or bowling scores do not stay as high as they once were, but we keep on golfing and bowling; maybe we cannot drive by ourselves anymore, but there are other ways to get to events. Reaching out to ask for help so we can continue to do things we enjoy – that is the ‘building on the new’ as Socrates said.
The good news from that research was that it also showed that we can learn to embrace positive ageing thoughts and not be ageist against ourselves. This will help us experience better health. Ageism (discrimination against older persons) from others we know can be very harmful, so we do not want to let others’ opinions affect us in what we can achieve and we definitely do not want to create our own limitations by having ageist thoughts.
There are many positive aspects to getting older; so I urge everyone to focus on all of those positive aspects as you move forward in life – and think about them often.

Column 11- It’s important to have fun as we age


I saw my youngest child off to university a couple years back and the empty nesting began for me. Part of the empty nest time of our lives is figuring out what new or renewed purpose we want to take on in life. A part of me recognized the ambition of wanting to succeed in life and to continue to work very hard. Another part of me recognizes the importance of making sure that time is spent doing things that I love to do. I am fortunate to have been blessed with work that I love and the fact that I work with people I greatly value. Life is more than work alone though, and it is more than keeping up with teenagers, grown children and grandchildren, although this definitely is another highlight for me as I love the times I get to have with my grown children, when we are able to get together. What makes us happy can change over time and sometimes it is difficult to figure out what brings happiness. Finding our own happiness may include letting go of others’ expectations of us. This can be a hard thing to do if a great deal of one’s life has been wrapped up in working toward something that someone else wanted us to do.
I have read that being open to our own change and being flexible to set our own path might be what ambition looks like as we age. Oddly enough, this view may lead us to be better at what we do than when we worked at something to be able to pay the bills. It has been shown time and again that if we do what we love and enjoy what we do, we become better and better at it, at any age. Living each moment doing what makes us feel good inside and not solely to make money or gain power can help us age well and feel healthy. Many studies say that when people strive for basic goals like giving back to the community, learning more about something of interest or doing something just to enjoy it, they are happier. When goals are set for the purpose of getting something back, like money, happiness is harder to reach, even if lots of money is earned.
It has also been shown that combining play with work actually enhances the work achieved – that makes me think of the time I heard of some big computer companies providing fun things like ping pong tables for their employees. Research has shown that, overall, people experience the happiest times of their lives both when they are younger and when they are older. For people who are having the time of their lives through their middle years, they probably live the philosophy of truly enjoying where they spend their time.
As the empty nesting settled in and I gained the positive aspects of it – like more free time, I also did some soul searching to fill this additional time with people and activities I love. I attempted to make a creative space in which my artistic self of many years ago was found again, apparently it needs more time to appear. Geocaching my way across the Maritimes also brings great delight and exercise. I have taken more time to play golf, a new-found sport for me and I enjoy the beautiful surroundings at the golf course, and the people I have met there. Ambition at any age can help motivate us to find those joys we seek in life.
So take the time to ensure you have happiness in your life; it is good for your health to do things that bring you joy and warms your heart, be it a new hobby, volunteering or doing more of what you enjoy. As the Nike slogan says…”Just Do It™!”

Column 10

The weather may not seem to have this risk at this time, but it is coming….
Keeping Safe in the Summer Heat
I am sure you’ve heard the saying, ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’. Well, I am saying it and I mean it! A few years ago on Canada Day, after taking in a few festivities, it was time to get some yard work done so I rolled up my sleeves, put on the sunscreen and got down to work. It was a day that outside fires were allowed so it was a great time to get rid of a pile of sticks and brush that had gathered over the winter. I used up a whole tank of gas doing hand trimming around the yard, then noticed that not only the trimmer’s gas tank was empty, but I felt like I’d run out of gas too.
I certainly didn’t mean to, but I’m sure I’d allowed myself to get heat sickness; not quite heat stroke, but well on my way to it. I was so busy working in the yard that I forgot to follow all the right steps to staying healthy in the heat. Health Canada states ‘heat illnesses, like heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat fainting, are caused by over-exposure to heat or over-exertion in the heat.’ It sounds just like what I felt. I was queasy, very weak, beet-red in the face, light headed and felt like I was going to faint. I am a relatively healthy person but I couldn’t help but think of what serious health effects could take place if I did have some health issues such as heart problems, diabetes or high blood pressure. How foolish I had been. Luckily, moving to a cooler place and drinking lots of water helped a bit, but I didn’t fully recover until the next day. I had a bad headache all evening, had some muscle cramping and continued to feel weak. Along with some pain pills I needed to use an ice pack to help me fall asleep. I really felt awful.
First thing the next morning I could tell my blood pressure had dropped. I needed to continue to drink extra water to replenish what I had lost. Reviewing the first aid steps, I see now that I should have put cold water over much of my skin and sat in front of a fan; that would have been a much smarter thing to do than the hot bath I had taken to ease the cramping muscles – that probably led to the horrible headache. Now for the part where I said to do as I say, not as I do , especially for people with health concerns like lung issues, heart conditions, blood pressure issues, diabetes and dementia; age can put us more at risk as well, whether we are very young or considered a senior. We have heard of deaths during heat waves, it is a serious matter.
The following steps can help to avoid the terrible feelings that I experienced. Starting with not staying in a hot car, or the direct sun without proper protection, drinking lots of water and caffeine-free drinks (avoid colas, tea and coffee) and alcohol. It might be hard to believe that a cold beer in the blazing sun is not better for you than a glass of water, but evidence has proven this is true. Some of the more obvious tactics which most people practice are to wear light coloured clothing make from light fabrics, a hat, sun glasses and sunscreen and stay in the shade. Some wise people even make sure they complete their yard work either early or late in the day when it tends to be cooler. Spend time in air conditioned areas; it’s a great time to get a few groceries or people watch in the malls. If you’re staying home, keep your curtains/blinds closed, lights low and keep air moving with a fan or air conditioning if you have it. We used to put a bowl of ice in front of a fan to make the air cooler for a person. Perhaps you could have a face cloth to dip into that cool water as the ice melts and wipe the skin to keep cool. What we eat and drink can help too, so try to stick to light meals and avoid using the oven.
Be informed; check the weather forecast on radio or television to know what temperatures are expected so you can be better prepared for it. Sometimes medications can put persons at a higher risk for heat intolerance, so ask your pharmacist about the pills you’re taking. Be a good neighbour and check in on those who are not able to get out and if you are the one who cannot get out, reach out and invite someone for a visit or talk on the phone with someone, to stay safely in touch.
The bottom line is – enjoy the warm weather, but be smart, be aware and be safe in the summer heat.

Column 9- Self-rule, A Life-Saving Act?



As we reflect on caring for our children, grandchildren or others, do we see the development of hope within their lives as something important? Hope can also be described as faith, confidence and courage, among other words. When I think of contributing to another person’s life, I expect that I am providing some hope in their life. My goal is to contribute to their confidence, however, I could be too helpful and take away some of their self-reliance by doing too much for them. It does not mean I am any less caring. There could be times when stepping in to take on more functions within their lives may be needed, however, we really need to be careful. I will share with you something that has become clearer and clearer to me over the years. Teaching and encouraging will help much more than a warning and doing for someone. This takes on a clear meaning when we are caring for older people in our lives. Choice and input into how a person wishes to spend their days are very important.
What a difficult line we walk when we see someone spending their days in a way that we do not see as good for them. What happens when they choose to take part in different activities than they used to? What if we believe they are being taken over by an illness? Research has shown us that even though a person may need a great deal of care, they still need to be able to make decisions that affect their lives. We can actually do more harm than good to a person if we take over their decision making. A person needs to feel some control over their lives in order to feel satisfied with their life. If all decisions are being made for them, and things being done to them, research has shown that people living with this higher constraint in their lives are less satisfied and in poorer health.
As we age we may have many changes contribute to us losing control. We may lose our ability to walk freely, and we then get back our control through the use of walking aids or perhaps getting a wheelchair in order to give us some control again. Perhaps some people would see using a walking aid as a constraint, I prefer to see it as a tool to keep us more independent. Beyond physical losses, we usually have financial losses that affect us as well, although some people experience more financial freedom as they age because they receive a regular income that they may not have had when they were younger. A loss that I dread is the day that I can no longer safely drive. The loss of being able to independently get behind the wheel and head off somewhere or nowhere is a massive loss, especially to those who have driven all their lives. Another huge loss that many people have to deal with is moving from their home into a care facility. This move can often be a huge blessing as well, however that does not negate the fact that the person is dealing with another loss.
Believe it or not, there are many services and opportunities that are aimed at ensuring people have autonomy in their lives. Home care services are in place to support people to remain in their homes with their belongings, memories and surroundings that are important to them, for as long as that is possible. Policies are in place in the long term care homes to have avenues like Resident Councils available for people to be able to express their opinions in ways that they can be considered when supports, care and programs are being planned. A great number of studies have taken place over the 40+ years that have influenced these great practices. For example, some studies compared situations where the older population had very little say in what activities they took part into those who had more control over what activities they took part. The results consistently showed that the less control the people had, the more negative effects on their emotional status, their functioning, personal well-being and on their physical health.
So what does this all mean? To me, this is a very important concept for all of us to understand because it is something that affects all of us. Think about yourselves, when you feel like you have no control over aspects of your life, how do you feel? I am guessing it is not positive. The truth is we will all need to deal with the stuff life throws at us that we will not have control over, yet if we maintain control over those parts of our lives that we can, it will benefit our health and lives as we age. I see taking away choice just because I am older is a form of ageism, discrimination because of age. I challenge each of us, myself included to observe more deeply how we can and do encourage autonomy for our older population. When we come up short, let’s work together to find a better way. It will benefit all of us. Hope is courage and courage gives us the chance to make our own decisions for as long as we can.

Column 8 – “Sundowning” With Dementia

Years ago when I was working as a personal care worker I worked a variety of hours. My shift of choice was nights, but I worked many evenings as well. At the end of the 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. day shift, many people were having naps so the first thing the evening shift did was to help people get up, assist them to the bathroom and then get freshened up for supper.
On the evening shift, one issue we sometimes had to consider is now called ‘sundowning’. Some people with moderate or advanced dementia can at times exhibit mood swings, become suspicious of others, or even experience hallucinations where they hear or see things that aren’t really there.
As a caregiver living with someone with dementia it can be difficult to cope with the routines and approaches that are needed to deal with responsive behaviours, especially sundowning. And that is because of fatigue; you are tired as the result of round-the-clock care. The strain of sundowning can turn stress into distress if the caregiver is unable to help relieve the sundowning actions.
Although sundowning decreases as the disease progresses there are steps that can be tried to reduce the behaviours – understanding why sundowning is occurring can help. Although it’s not known what causes sundowning, one theory is that as the disease affects more and more of the brain, over time it can hit the part of it that controls the body’s 24-hour clock. Some things that may heighten the risk for sundowning and not sleeping well are health concerns such as constipation, infections and pain. Other risks are too many medications, poor diet – including drinking too much caffeine – and a lot of background noise in the late afternoon or evening.
But there are things that can be done to help, like talking to your doctor or nurse practitioner about reviewing medications to ensure they are currently needed, up-to-date and being taken correctly. It is also very helpful to have a routine that includes lots of light and movement throughout the day, followed by a more calm evening. Some people find that having a couple hours of exposure to sunshine or a full-spectrum light in the morning can reduce problems later in the day. Pastimes like watching TV or reading may be too difficult in the evening for someone with dementia. Calm and soothing activities such as listening to music or a CD with sounds of nature, may be preferable in late afternoon or evening. Keeping the home well lit can also be good to keep the brain informed that it is still day time. If the person living with dementia is feeling distressed, a hand massage, especially using lavender or lemon balm scents, can be helpful. Planning to spend a half-hour before or after supper listening to music and holding hands with your loved one as part of the regular routine can sometimes make a big difference as well.
Keeping a brief journal of what the day can look like and how the person responds and appears to feel about their day can help identify if something triggers an agitation. Whether the person living with dementia is being cared for by family members or by professional caregivers, having a routine and identifying situations that cause distress are important.
It can be very difficult for caregivers to remain healthy themselves through these difficult times that sundowning can create. Not only will taking steps to reduce sundowning help, but reaching out for help and support is also important. Please take the time to call the Alzheimer Society of New Brunswick at 1-800-664-8411, for information that could help you to better understand how your loved one is being affected by dementia. There are also great resources right here in our community, like the monthly Memory Café held the last Sunday of each month from 2-4 p.m. at the Sackville United Church where you and your loved one living with dementia can go and socialize in a safe environment. There is also the Sackville Caregiver Support Group that meets the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Bill Johnstone Memorial Park building where caregivers can share, learn and support each other in a safe, confidential environment.
Learning to deal with the issues of sundowning can make life easier for both you and your loved one as you live each day with the effects of dementia.

Column 7 – Understanding the Challenges of Gay and Lesbian Seniors

I recently read a news story from Ontario about gay and transgender seniors being afraid of being admitted to long term care. People shared their stories of being mistreated throughout their lives and said they were afraid it would start all over again if they went to live in a nursing home – it was a very sad story. One man shared how through his entire high school years, grades seven to 12, he ate lunch all alone and was ignored, so he was afraid that would happen to him again.
I had the opportunity to see the film ‘GenSilent’ a few years ago and although I had already viewed it through a work event, when I saw it for the second time I got even more out of it. This hour-long video is a documentary that follows the lives of a few people over a period of about a year. The stories are filled with determination, love, compassion and caring; people share their history, their lives, their loves and how they coped in the face of challenges that made their past battles seem trivial.
These people were aging, some not as well as others. In one instance a couple was very reluctantly separated after one had cared for the other for more than 40 years in the home they shared. When more in-depth care was needed he moved into long-term care and he was provided with excellent care and love until the end, all the while being visited regularly by his partner. The movie shared interviews with how these two persons remained a couple, despite living in different homes. The difficulties were shared and the raw emotions were exposed.
Another couple received home care twice as one became ill after taking care of the other. Again, the challenges and blessings were shared with love and compassion. This story showed just how important a caregiver who is truly open and respectful can make a true difference in the life of a person requiring care.
A third couple shared how they prepared their home in order to accommodate them both as they aged. They were determined to never need to move away from their beloved home, pets, neighbours and friends and their community was essential to their aging well. These two women had wonderful humour and determination that I hope resulted in them living to the end as they chose.
Along with dealing with old age and illnesses each of these couples has something else in common, they are gay. These seniors had lived through earlier times when being gay was against the law. Even though they were law abiding, hard working, contributing members of society, their love and devotion was not recognized as being acceptable.
The last individual whose story was shared was a person who was very challenged with a critical condition and a lack of support around her. She was fiercely independent and remained at home while using oxygen for as long as she could without help, and then she had volunteers rally around her so she could go back home as her condition got better and then worsened again. This woman was transgendered (a person who is biologically seen as one sex, but feels their true self is the opposite sex) and she had lived an unhappy life until she finally accepted who she really was. Still, as a parent, a friend and a veteran she was isolated from those who meant the most to her because of who she was.
This film is accurately titled as these people lived during a time when they were silent about who they were and who they loved, solely because of fear – fear they would be harmed, fear they would be rejected and fear they would be arrested.
As we care for our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and intersex (GLBTI) seniors we need to be sure that they know that they are respected and cared for. This film is one of the many tools available to help care providers to better understand more about their community and the diversity within that community. The importance of openly advocating for full and equal inclusion of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex seniors is obvious to many members of our society and through education, we can only hope it becomes understandable and normal to everyone.

Column 6 – Supporting Ageing Well

As we age, we may need help from others, for example to carry bags of groceries up to our home. We can still shop and put away our items but it is difficult. Should this stop us from being able to remain living in our home? No! The most important first step to any situation is to remember that we all need help at times. Many of us are terrible at asking for help aren’t we? We hate to admit we need some help and yet we are the first to offer assistance when we can.

Some businesses are excellent at identifying needs of their customers just by listening to concerns and trying to meet the needs. Services like drive through banking and pharmacy services are certainly helpful. I remember when I lived in Halifax what a blessing it was when I had a sleeping baby in a car seat and I could get my banking done and grab some lunch without getting out of the car!

Not all conveniences are that simple though. This is where unsung heroes come to life. People like taxi drivers who not only take us to and from our destinations, but also take the time to walk us safely to our door. I have heard people praise their taxi drivers as being very caring and taking the parcels to the home. How very thoughtful and what excellent customer service. This type of service from friends and family is what helps us stay active and well in the rural areas too, since we do not always have affordable services available.

Have you noticed other thoughtful services like recognizing that not everyone should be made to wait in line? I have noticed the great customer service initiatives like a service desk that opens up when people are experiencing life situations that have complicated the simple act of waiting in line. Kudos to businesses that take that extra step to help people remain independent and provide seats, visual aids, etc.

We all need to remember it is not a weakness to ask for help. Your need for help is giving someone the opportunity to be honored that you asked for assistance.

The Nursing Homes Without Walls project at Westford developed a Helping Tree (like the one Cumberland County produced years ago) which compiles a list of services that are helpful to refer to when asking for help.

As we continue to hear about businesses that are age-friendly without being ageist we can help educate each other on their services. I have been noticing more and more about ageism as the assumptions we put on ourselves and others regarding age alone. This is something we need to check ourselves on as we balance offering assistance and making assumptions. This is truly why it is so important for people to state their needs and wishes. We should not be assuming someone needs something just because of their age, yet we want to be able to support people to be living at their ideal. Please let me re-state what I just said, at THEIR best. It is critical we respect choice, so long as a person recognizes the risks.

Column 5 – The Call

Have you or someone close to you ever lost a job? Do you recall the devastating feeling of picturing all the worst things that could happen as a result? Forget about the loss of self-esteem and self-worth, what about the bills, if they can’t be paid, what will happen to the family? Will they have to move, will they lose their home? There are so many negative thoughts and scenarios that we all deal with at a time like this. Short of being able to offer the person a job, we feel very helpless during these situations. In fact, most people feel at such a loss that they do nothing and that is certainly understandable, because how many times or in how many ways can you express how unfair the situation is for that person. This can be one of those times when you just don’t know what to say.
It is during these times that many people just take the plunge and make that awkward call. There are times when I have been one of those people who have made the call – and times when I’ve been the one receiving the call. No matter how awkward, no matter that there seems to be nothing that can be said, that call can be priceless. It is such a relief and is so comforting to hear someone express how they do not know what to say, however they just had to call to express how sorry they are that this has happened.
Another way to reach out, if a phone call is too difficult, is through an email or text message. Receiving a short, private message on Facebook can even lift someone’s’ spirits immensely. An email with a cartoon or quote attached; a card that has been mailed or dropped off in person; perhaps a quick visit for tea, or even a glass of wine – each of these are wonderful supportive actions during a challenging time.
Making time for lunch can also offer a time to discuss life, movies, or just whatever comes to mind at the time. Many times these simple gestures will help to give that other person spirit a lift. When a person loses their job they are thrown into a time of reflection and reinvention and having a family member or friend reach out with a caring gesture can help that transition. I have been so blessed to have experienced all of these approaches in my own life and the care and compassion I felt helped me greatly. And for those people who wonder if a call or visit can help someone dealing with job loss, I know from first hand experience that it certainly does. Don’t be hesitant, just do what you feel comfortable with.
Income and the health and safety it can bring into a home is a determinant of health, certainly the loss of income can have devastating effects on a person’s health. At this time it is also very important to continue to include a person in social interactions, especially those for which there is little to no cost involved. Going for a walk, having someone over for coffee or a meal, using a gift card or a two-for-one deal, these are great ways to include someone in an activity. The important thing is to stay connected. Friendship does not have to end because employment ends, especially if you were close before the job loss, and that includes retirement. Our jobs are not only a source of income, they are a source of socializing and friendship. Yes, lives are busy, yet try to reach out, whether a person is living independently, or with assistance. Both you and your family member or friend will benefit for your efforts.
Patricia Harrington is executive director at Westford Nursing Home in Port Elgin. She believes it is important to share information on everyday concerns as we age and enjoys promoting these important aspects that will help our older population in aging well. She can be reached by email at executivedirector@westfordnursinghome.com or by phone at 506-538-1301.

Column 4 – Bugs That Are More Than Annoying

Have you ever had nausea or vomiting, cramps or diarrhea along with maybe a headache or fever? Many people have and they feel they have a “bug”. That “bug” may have been food poisoning. A few years ago someone close to me did get sick and she did not know whether it was food poisoning or some type of bug that was going around. What she did know is that she felt bad shortly after eating a sauce that had an expiry date that was long overdue. I believe she would not be alone in the fact that she ate something that had expired, but the truth is this can be very dangerous. Many of us grew up in times of shortages of food or we were raised to not waste food. With the price of food you certainly cannot blame someone for not wanting to throw any away. Although waste is not a good thing, poisoning is even worse. The person I am speaking about ended up in hospital, probably because she did not get enough water back into her body. Because she is older she is at a greater risk of being harmed by food poisoning. Dehydration is serious for anyone, and even more dangerous for older people. Severe dehydration can cause a drop in blood pressure which affects getting blood to organs such as the kidneys. Kidney failure can be fatal.
I thought I would do some research at the time this happened. There is a great deal of information out there on food poisoning. It really is quite common. I was surprised to learn that between 11 and 13 million Canadians get food poisoning every year! Eating foods which have passed their “best before” dates is a possible cause and it was stated over and over that young children, older people and pregnant people are the greatest at risk. Eating contaminated food means it is past its prime or it has been infected with a bacteria, virus or parasite. To get a little science speaking for a moment I will share some names of some of the more common bacteria because I think you will recognize their names: Salmonella- found in beef, chicken, milk or eggs; but, all foods, even fruits and vegetables, can be infected. E. coli – from animal intestines (feces) and commonly found in beef. Shigella is also found in intestinal tracts and can be shared when hands are not washed after using the bathroom. Staphylococcus and Clostridium perfringens, and the toxins they produce. Drinking contaminated water means it has bacteria, virus’ or parasites in it.
I have been personally affected by food poisoning at least three (3) times in my life. I recently took a Safe Food Handlers course and it was very informative. I realized that I have really safe food handling ways, however I learned a lot too. I cannot share all of the important points here, but I will try to summarize: wash hands often, separate prep areas for meats and veggies, keep cutting areas clean, keep hot food hot and cold food cold, cook meats carefully (use a meat thermometer), put leftovers in fridge quickly, don’t leave food out!
Washing hands thoroughly (at least 20 seconds) and act on “when in doubt, throw it out” you will greatly reduce your risk of suffering with food poisoning. Now that being said I have mentioned that my experiences with food poisoning came mainly from eating in public places. People working in the food industry are required to have Safe Food Handlers education and those of us who eat there hope they apply their education and fully appreciate its importance. Before my last instance of food poisoning , I did notice the person who made the pizza was cashing me through at the cash register wearing the same gloves that had handled the food, hmmm, probably not a good practice. Perhaps this was my warning sign. More than likely the pizza sauce was the culprit since another pizza had the same toppings, but not the same sauce and that person did not become ill. Should you feel sick, call 811 and the nurse on the phone will be able to guide you. Stay safe, eat safe and call 811 if you need help on whether to report, where to report or if you need health advice.
Patricia is the Executive Director of the Westford Nursing Home in Port Elgin. She is an advocate for sharing information about aging well and enjoys promoting important aspects that will support our older population to age well. Patricia can be reached at executivedirector@westfordnursinghome.com.