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 [email protected] 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 [email protected]

Column 3 – Good Riddance Waste

Waste is all around us and an accumulation of waste is a risk to ageing well. To be at our best we need to rid ourselves of excess waste. I know you are thinking what I am thinking, “excess” is in the eye of the beholder, but truly if you have not used something in a year and you have no plans on using it; do you really need it cluttering your space? I know, I know there are people who would say, “I might need that someday” and if they have a garage or workspace that allows them to keep that type of stuff and it is not in their living space, they might get away with that. I know in my home we do because it has been proven time and time again that we do indeed use that extra piece of whatever to make repairs around the home, or someone else’s home.
When people do get better organized they feel a good sense of “letting go” of clutter which then can bring an improved emotional state. Just like when you de-clutter your mind and you give your thoughts room to “breathe”, when you de-clutter your space you can feel healthier. It is a process and once you go through the process the overwhelming feeling of dreading the process is gone and our muddled thoughts can become clear. Also we can feel livelier and be safer.
The digestive system is another example of a part of us that we need to be sure is working well and ridding our body of waste. When our digestion is not working well and when it leads to our bowels not working well we can become severely distressed. Pooping well is an extraordinary important part of health and there are a number of things people need to do to be sure the bowels are able to do the job. The human body needs to have water, water, water, fiber, fiber, fiber, exercise, exercise, exercise and relaxation. Stress can bring on a number of problems and yes, constipation can be one of those things. When we do not get enough water into our system, and we are eating too many processed foods we can have bowel problems.
On the other hand when digestion is functioning well, it is very efficient and carries out an organized sorting process. A healthy digestive system knows what to keep to help our bodies, where to send all the good things like nutrients, and it gets rid of the waste. Like good digestion we also need to know what to keep that helps us and what to get rid of because it is bogging us down. Our minds and bodies get slowed down, just like our bowels if we do not keep what is good for us around us.
Believe it or not it has been shown that when we de-clutter and organize our living space our bodies react in a more healthy way. Some health benefits that have been stated are better blood flow and less soreness, and an improved ability to fight diseases. Just like in the bowels, the right nutrients can get to the right place. All the health benefits of de-cluttering our lives can help us beat back chronic conditions such as cancers, diabetes, heart disease and depression. When we are able to think clearly and more efficiently, our energy lasts longer and our health profits.
As we enter spring and warmer weather it is a good time to start purging unused items. Maybe someone else can benefit from our unneeded treasures. Maybe you need some help in getting your house back in order? Perhaps there are people who can assist who pick up donations, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Helping others brings joy. Also, there are companies you can hire that will help provide heavy cleaning, there are services that can offer help, check out the yellow pages under Garbage Collection.
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 [email protected]

Column 2 – A Nasty Cycle

January 8, 2019

Having fear about some things can keep us safe, like the fear of being hit by a car when crossing a street, however, fear can contribute poorly to our lives. I am certain many of us can relate to our own fear stopping us from doing something and we should absolutely listen to that voice of fear, but other times that voice of fear can be hurting us more than we know. I will get to the point now. The fear of falling actually contributes to our risk of falling.

We need to think about the fact that if an older person is restricted too much from having walks or going to the bathroom then we can actually be increasing their odds on falling when they do get up. That is why patients are encouraged to get up as soon as possible after surgery or an illness. The longer we do not stand, or walk, or sit up on our own, then the longer we may hesitate to do these things and our bodies are more ready to fall.

Some people may stop attempting to do things they used to do regularly. Things like taking the time to make a healthy soup instead of just toast or a sandwich for many meals. Maybe leaving laundry to pile up instead of putting on a load when there is enough to do wash. Other things like going to another room or another level in the home to do something socially or entertaining during the day.

There are other factors that can change our patterns in life. Factors such as our eyes not working like they used to, not feeling as well as we once did, or maybe fatigued from that new medication we take. These aspects of our life combined with a fear of falling will really take a toll on us. Our fear of falling can come alive if we have a fall, even if no serious injury comes from it. A fall is an unkind reminder that we are not always in control and something nasty can happen in a flash. Sadly, if we do not address this fear it can make us stop doing things we used to do. When we stop doing things we used to do, other aspects of our life can be affected in a bad way. We stop moving around as much, we stop going out as much and then we stop socializing as much. When we stop moving and we stop socializing our quality of life and our health are affected negatively in a big way. The small joys of having a good conversation, being a part of something, feeling well, eating well, and feeling needed can be stripped slowly away.

Research has been carried out on studying how the fear of falling increases the risk of falling. We know that more needs to be done and it is clear that it is a problem and one that we can work toward addressing ourselves through talking about it and acknowledging that it is an issue. Working towards reducing the risks that are around us that could contribute to us falling is an important step (pun intended). No, falling is not a normal part of ageing, but it certainly affects us more as we age. We need to be very careful that we are not avoiding the very things we need to do to reduce our risk of falling or being seriously hurt by a fall. Start or join a walking group, walking is good at any speed. Using walking aids is not something to restrict us, they are there to keep us moving and independent. Show that cane, walker or wheelchair off with pride that you are not going to be slowed down to a stop! Speak with your doctor or nurse practitioner if you are feeling unsafe when walking so you can work together to correct the issue. There are resources and help please use them and keeping moving.

Column 1 – A New Start

January 3, 2019

Hello Everyone, Westford has decided to start posting the Aging Well columns that have run in the Tribune over the past year. We will post a new column about every two weeks to help you catch up or review. We hope you enjoy the tidbits of information that are intended to help us think about approaches that assist us to age as well as we can. Here is the first one:

The Westford Nursing Home starts 2018 with a New Executive Director with a New Column

The Westford Nursing Home has started 2018 with a new Executive Director. They have said farewell to their long-time Executive Director, Judy White, wishing her a very happy retirement after a lengthy and dedicated career. Patricia Harrington has been warmly welcomed into their home.
Judy began her career at the Westford Nursing Home 27 years ago, first as Director of Nursing and then as the Executive Director. Judy has been a steadfast advocate for the residents and an exceptional leader, guiding and inspiring staff throughout the years. She now hands over these responsibilities to Patricia who will ensure Westford Nursing Home continues to provide compassionate and professional resident care in a safe, comfortable and homelike environment. The Board of Directors feel very fortunate to have found someone with Patricia’s experience, qualifications and enthusiasm to fill this key position.
Patricia is keen to continue the respectful, caring leadership that is so evident at the Home. “I was thrilled to be informed that I was chosen to be a part of the Westford team, I truly look forward to working in Port Elgin with such a dedicated, caring group of people”. Patricia started out her career as a care provider to seniors and has since worked in a number of management positions that not only supported older people living in long term care, but, also vulnerable people living in their communities. As the Director of a provincial personal emergency response service, to a District Manager of Continuing Care Services, Patricia worked collaboratively with many organizations to ensure safe, appropriate services were available. Services such as palliative care, home support services, long term care, equipment loan, home oxygen, meals, adult day, and caregiver support. Patricia was also an initiator of a successful Seniors Safety Program.
As a writer for an Aging Well column for over five years, Patricia has helped to raise awareness of the important supports and knowledge of how we can take control of our health as we age. As a co-facilitator of a caregiver support group, she also helps support people who are caring for loved ones living with dementia. “There are a lot of supports available to help people to age well and to live as independently and safely as possible in their communities. Raising awareness is a constant challenge. I look forward to helping people become informed regarding the support that is currently available in the Port Elgin region”. This work goes hand in hand with the high-quality care that the Westford Nursing Home currently provides.
The Westford Nursing Home and Villa are integral to the community – not only caring for our frail and elderly, as well as, offering affordable housing, but also as a major employer, providing economic spin off to the community. “From removing their outside footwear at the door to ensure the floors are kept dry and safe for walking, to providing reassurance and an extra cup of tea as requested, the staff at Westford demonstrate everyday how important the residents are to them and how much they are loved by them. The Westford is not just about providing the much-needed care, it is about showing how much people are cared for as well,” said Patricia. I feel very blessed to be a part of the Westford home.

Patricia is an advocate for sharing information about aging well and enjoys promoting the important aspects that will support our older population to age well.