Retirement or Restart

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Retirement can be an opportunity for rebirth – a time to set in motion a new chapter in life.  It would even be regarded as an opportunity for a career restart.

Retirement is when we have more of that precious commodity…free time!  It is when we can take the opportunity to learn something new that can stimulate us. Unfortunately many of us have fallen into society’s pattern for our lives – working and being productive. Sadly, that is to be productive according to society’s definition of success, not ours! There has to be more. This belief is difficult to dismiss when spending hours in a perceived unproductive mode while indulging our interests.  We thus have to make sure that those interests will captivate our spirit and drive us to live a full and satisfied life.

Many of us considering retirement are weighed down by important questions before making that life changing decision.  We wrestle with many questions:  Is it time to retire? Can we afford to retire? What will we do to occupy our time after retirement? We need to find creative ways to enjoy life or pursue an alternate career while maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle. More time on your hands will allow you to wander and experience the wonders of our world if you can afford it.  We do however have to keep our expectations in line with the reality of our financial circumstances.

Family responsibilities often play a role in how we manage our time. Caring for others, such as your children, grandchildren or elderly parents may require obligations and place demands on your time. These responsibilities can be satisfying despite the challenges and frustrations that oft time seem to accompany engaging with family. Social interaction with family can, however, be a rewarding experience. It could ease the sense of isolation that some retirees experience. Emotional health is equally as important as physical health, especially at this important chapter of our life.

As we contemplate how to spend time, hesitation and even some confusion can become obstacles to implementing a good plan.  That concern can be lessened by doing research at the library. Libraries offer great free resources, as do colleges that have continuing education courses.  The library is an excellent resource as it provides access to a range of helpful information on how to have a fulfilling retirement.  There are also local community centres, clubs, and social groups that provide networking opportunities to ease one into the restart.

Workshops and classes can open many avenues in making retirement more productive and enjoyable. We have an opportunity to link up with all kinds of people in various age groups and from a vast array of cultural backgrounds. If you are interested in the arts you can take classes to learn how to draw, paint, write or even learn to play a musical instrument or anything else that may inspire or interest you.

A second career is also considered by some of us which may or may not offer a salary especially if you are a volunteer. That choice might depend on your financial circumstances. Volunteering in community centres or becoming a member of a social group can help you keep busy and give you a sense of being productive. While minimum wage jobs may offer some type of obligation, they may not sustain you emotionally. Your spirit or psyche might need more. There is the option for entrepreneurship for those who have the determination and passion to set up their own business.  Establishing a business is challenging so lots of hard work and resilience will be essential.

Enjoying retirement often has more to do with the choices we make, like embracing hobbies.  Finding a hobby of interest is another activity to consider. If you choose what you enjoy, the surroundings will fall into place. It becomes the most important calling.  Activities of interest can help to ignite the restart as you carve out your destiny at this time life.

You know you are on track with your destiny when you feel alive —that special spark that harks back to your youth.  During this time you will find that your purpose changes with life experiences and with age. This restart can be a most enthralling experience that you can explore and enjoy. The sky is the limit …. the fire of youth may have receded, but the passion should still be there in the embers.

Posted in Career restart, Health, Retirement, Retirement careers, Retirement hobbies, Volunteerism | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Love Giver

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By Francine Van, Guest Contributor
“Well te rusten,” was our nightly gesture, a Dutch phrase translating to “rest well,” and the only ritual practiced daily that brought peace to my inner world.

Two years, two people, and two very different relationships endured between a mother and daughter. A lifetime of personalities had settled comfortably, and required new vigor for a caring role reversal, as we merged lives.

The light bulb idea was mine as I suggested mom move in with me. I offered an extra bedroom at the condo I purchased for my retirement at a small lakeside community. I found her increased needs entailed exhaustive attention when she lived alone, and required daily visits to bring food. I cleaned, arranged appointments, paid her bills, and became her taxi. More seriously, reminders of regular routines like bath time, med-time, mealtime, and locking her door were also necessity.

Mom had difficulty with the decision; one day she ruled favourably in the choice, but then the next remained non-committal. She unfortunately forgot her final decision to move with me.

This trek with mom began with hope, a journey of love, and seriously railroaded off the tracks days after we moved. A nasty transition ensued, as I unpacked and she sat staring out the window.

She was vocal about her unhappiness, but silent in her retreat with this disease. My sense of hopelessness surfaced, not understanding how I was capable of providing the essentials of life, yet could not fix this situation for her. I knew she could not live alone.

I grimly noted my loss of privacy and social life. Resentment simmered, knowing she was not at fault. I never realized the encompassing work caring for a loved one, who became a disgruntled, unrepentant guest. Sorting my emotions became a dilemma, and feelings of suffocation arose. My lakeside dream crumbled, and my retreat changed into a prison.

A day-away program was a Band-Aid in assisting with her care, or was it for my care? Support was the goal, but the ultimate result attached me to their schedule. Respite care was exceedingly difficult to obtain, if at all. My freedom nevertheless diminished.

We weaved our existence around each other, but the oppressive energy in my home radiated. I became her total support system, yet wondered if I was helping her at all.

“What day is it?” was her morning question, this habit repeated every day, and it would not be an exaggeration to mention it could reoccur again a few hours later. Groundhog Day, the movie, once had me laughing at the repetition, but now the regurgitated theme troubled me, this reality inferred in my life.

My questions multiplied with lessened expectations of mom’s capabilities. Her mental functions deteriorated with no known navigation, and living with this disease of dementia, presented the most confusing, non-patterned survival. Each personality piloting this brain maze will live it differently, and the love givers live this same life!

“It takes a village.” is a common saying for raising children and I have learned the meaning also holds true for elder care. No one can go it alone.

Two years passed and my quest for additional help towered. I fell deeper into my misery, depression lurking for both of us. How could I make life decisions for another human being? She is here to live her own unique journey, so I struggled with this challenge.

The call came at four p.m. on New Year’s Eve. A bed at a long-term care residence was available immediately for her. No time to worry, we were rushed through the preparations, instructions, and tests. She appeared to understand, had wanted this move, but I still wondered if it was all clear to her. I felt grace in action the way the universe fell into place that day.

She explored the new surroundings without hesitation. She was back in the city she had called home.

She now seems content residing across the street from her old apartment. A new slice of life sprouted in this nursing home, mom unfolding with a re-energized spirit, and choices of a manicure or bingo her only concern.

Long-term residence care survives criticism by various standards, yet continues to provide elder care housing, as society searches for improved, alternative options. I must end with a shout out of thanks to this village currently supporting mom’s needs.

A fresh relationship surfaced for us too, and I am pleased we have recreated a new, old friendship. She has taught me endurance and adaptability.

Love overwhelms me again.

Posted in Caregivers, Dementia, Elder Care, Long Term Care | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Time Passing By

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By Francine Van, Guest Contributor

Two years have passed since my last blog at this site. I reflect and remember my exploration of my inner desires to find my creative purpose in this world with retirement fresh. I have made several attempts in different directions, just following the moment of interest and as the expression goes, just as I was making plans a purpose found me.  A year as caregiver for my mother has taught me many things and my creative purpose is not one of them! The presence of death becoming a little closer, my pursuit is becoming a pressure of endurance in my efforts to raise my level of contentment.

I am one of millions always searching or longing for more, and believe I will follow my heart to keep my spirit alive and excited in whatever ways nourish me. I struggle with draining useless tasks that consume us, some required in this society and limit our freedom. I am always seeking new innovative explorations and look forward to comments of advice and suggestions.

I recently heard a comment about life being a changing set of circumstances you have to figure out and was inspired to write this free verse poem to describe my life at the moment.

This quote captures the essence of what I am experiencing at this time.

“life begins at the end of your comfort zone” ~ Neale Donald Walsch

Posted in Baby boomers, Caregivers, Connected seniors, Elder Care, Quality of life, Retirement hobbies | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Inadequate Standards For Elder Care Facilities

More and more serious concerns are being raised about the standard of care provided by many elder care facilities. Concerns range from overcrowding, insufficient staff, untrained staff, staff abuse and to dangerous and sometimes deadly confrontations that occur between residents suffering from neurological conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer.

When ageing relatives are no longer able to care for themselves it can be a challenging time for families. Unlike how things were done in the past where families and the community worked together to take care of the elderly, that job is now increasingly undertaken by health care institutions. Elder health care is rapidly becoming a booming business. Similar to other businesses, elder care institutions focus more on profits and the bottom line but less on their frail and fragile clients. Hence the elderly are often victims of substandard health care services due to an absence of proper monitoring and regulations.

Earlier this year it was reported that over 10,000 Canadians were abused in the elder care industry. That is a staggering amount of abuses occurring annually in these facilities. (Refer to: Renewed focus on seniors violence after 91-year-old woman dies following fight and  CareHomes_TenThousandAbused) Elder care facilities that are supposed to be safe havens for the most vulnerable among us are failing them. A case in point is the recent ruling to take away the licence from a retirement home. This underscores the dire need to improve the standards that govern health care facilities. Clearly there is a need to regulate and monitor how elder care facilities operate. (Refer to: TheStar_RetirementHomes)

Like everything else, care facilities don’t provide identical services. Facilities are graded and the varying costs are intended to reflect where that institution fits with regard to level of service. Costs will vary depending on whether the facility is rated from high-end to mediocre. This raises the question of affordability for seniors of modest income. Seniors who cannot afford to pay those hefty charges have to opt for less expensive care facilities. Yet, many troubling incidents of abuse and violence have occurred in high-end facilities. Many of the victims also have mobility issues. Recent reports have revealed that even high-end facilities that have had a good reputation are now under scrutiny regarding the safety and care of the elderly in their care. Those high costs charged by institutions are not justified. It seems to be mostly about corporate profits.

Unfortunately, there are not many options available to an abused elder when unpleasant or violent incidents occur. In most jurisdictions victims can seek recourse through a ‘complaint line’. Providing a complaint line is a small step in addressing this serious issue. It is not an adequate mechanism to address what is becoming a very serious obstacle in protecting our elders. Adequate regulations and criteria should govern how elder care facilities should operate. These regulations and criteria have to be formulated by a regulatory body such as a task force, ombudsman or watchdog. If the criteria are not met then clients should not have to deal with stifling red tape to seek redress. Speedy legal justice should be embedded within the criteria.

While concerns focus on the standards at facilities the role of family members is important. Relatives need to check up on their elders, especially those suffering from isolation or mental health problems. There are also too many instances where dementia sufferers wander away from the facility and are later found dead.  The last federal budget introduced the 2013 Canadian Action Plan which allows a ‘Caregiver Tax Credit Supporting Caregivers’ for a family member with physical or mental impairments who prefers to be cared for in their own home. ( Refer to:  http://actionplan.gc.ca/en/blog/supporting-caregivers-through-family-caregiver-tax).

The 2013 Canadian Action Plan tax relief option is for those who prefer to live out their lives in the comfort of their own homes. It is a good start as that option recognizes that home care is a more effective way to reduce health care costs. Moreover it can quell concerns about the type of care provided by some care homes. While it is helpful, it hardly covers the financial burden of hiring a personal caregiver not to mention the physical and emotional burden on relatives who are still in the workforce. Caring for elderly relatives suffering from isolation, mobility issues or serious mental health problems presents a big challenge for families. Providing adequate care for our elders will become an even greater challenge with the rapidly expanding ageing demographic in a world that is still wrestling with an uncertain economic future.

It is essential that effective standards be put in place to stop the rampant abuses that are increasing in elder care facilities. Society`s attitude toward our vulnerable aged and infirm citizens needs to undergo a dramatic transformation.

Posted in 2013 Canadian Action Plan, Alzheimer, Caregivers, Dementia, Demographics, Elder abuse, Elder Care institutions, Long Term Care | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

New Realities of Seniors Health Care

For decades we have been led to believe that Canada’s health care system was designed to guarantee availability of universal health care to all citizens, irrespective of economic status.

Since the implementation of universal health care, the overall population has been growing steadily. In hindsight, it appears that sustainability of the universal health care plan and changing demographics were not adequately addressed at the time of implementation.  As a result, we now have a universal health care system that is struggling to adjust to the realities of health care demands to support an expanding elderly population in a stagnant economy.

The new realities of health care for the elderly are related to how health services are provided in an environment of ongoing fiscal cutbacks. Many provinces are scaling back the number of procedures previously included in the annual health check for healthy adults.  This could be a disastrous move since annual health checks are seen as a preventive form of health care to detect certain illnesses and diseases. Refer to these links:
http://o.canada.com/2012/11/14/ontario-moves-to-scale-back-annual-physical-exams-in-new-deal-with-doctors/
http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/01/08/wealthier_ontario_seniors_may_be_asked_to_pay_for_home_care_costs.html

The scaling back of certain procedures suggests that the elderly will have to pay for required tests that are no longer included with annual checkups. This option to pay should only apply to those seniors who can afford to pay for these preventive procedures. It is a well-known fact that a staggering range of complex and chronic health issues accompany old age. Surely we are not reverting back to a system in which the quality of patient care will depend upon the financial capacity to pay. Could the idea of free health care services for all continue to be financed with the ballooning elderly population?

The pain from fiscal cutbacks combined with a growing elderly population is also being felt in some long term care facilities and home care services. We are all too familiar with the disturbing reports of poor care and abuse in nursing home facilities for the elderly. While there are some good care facilities, there have been an increasing number of disturbing cases of elder abuse at some facilities.

It appears that some facilities are operated with too few staff in an effort to cut costs. This situation can only be improved with public funding, or the client will be forced to pay more for an acceptable level of care.  The reality is that, without additional funding, we will have to move toward more privatization of health care. How many of the elderly will be able to afford the costs for additional private care?

A modest increase in funding for health care was included in the 2013 Canadian Action Plan. This plan also recognized the value that home care plays in supporting good quality of life for frail and vulnerable seniors by allowing expanded tax relief for home care.  This approach to providing care is seen as a more effective way to reduce health care costs and quell concerns about the type of care provided by some care homes.  The tax relief enables health care to be shifted from a costly institution to the more affordable comfort of a person’s home.  Even with the tax breaks, not many of the elderly will be able to afford the costs for home care services.  Refer to these links:
http://www.budget.gc.ca/2013/doc/speech-discours/index-eng.html
http://actionplan.gc.ca/en/blog/supporting-caregivers-through-family-caregiver-tax
http://www.cdnhomecare.ca/

It would not be fair to have a discussion about universal health care without acknowledging the untiring efforts by Tommy Douglas to end health care inequalities. Starting with the introduction of Medicare, great strides have been made to realize the vision of this great Canadian.  It is deplorable that 50 years later the vision of Tommy Douglas for universal health care would encounter so many obstacles or would be in jeopardy of reverting back to more privatized health care.

The introduction of universal health care was intended to make sure no one is faced with financial ruin if they got sick.  We in Canada cannot  expect to have every minor health issue covered by our health care system — the ‘reality’ is that such an expectation is not sustainable! Didn’t any of the social planners foresee that the ballooning elderly population and the on-going financial and economic challenges would continue to afflict the quality of life of the elderly?

These are the new realities seniors with modest incomes will have to face as they struggle to balance their daily living costs with the additional costs of adequate health care.

Posted in 2013 Canadian Action Plan, Annual Medical Checkup, Canada Medicare, Caregivers, Economy, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Long Term Care, Pensioners health care | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Seniors Online

Learning how to use a computer and the Internet is bringing benefits to the lives of many seniors. These seniors are not the baby boomers whose participation in the workplace coincided with the proliferation of computer technology. These are older seniors who saw computers as complicated machines. They seemed to believe computers were too difficult understand, perhaps irrelevant and not enhancing their lives. While in the workplace they relied on phones, typewriters, fax machines and ‘snail mail’ as it is frequently labelled nowadays. They didn’t recognize the role that that computers and the internet would play in shaping their personal lives and also how it would transform how business would be conducted. And since  most of them didn’t use the computer in the workplace they didn’t see the need for it at home. Retirement, however, has brought a significant change in the attitude of seniors to the digital world’.

Seniors who may have resisted computers in the past are now finding the digital world can be a stimulating and rewarding experience in retirement. Retirement is a time when many of them lose their social connections and sense of purpose. A significant number of them suffer from health problems related to social isolation. They gradually became more interested in the digital world and how the Internet can easily facilitate communications between family and close friends who had moved away. They were also impressed with the easy access to all kinds of health information, particularly related to the social isolation they were experiencing in their golden years.  They observed how younger relatives were entirely comfortable with current technology and various modes ways of communication, e.g. e-mailing, chat and social networking. Technology is rapidly changing all our lives both at a personal and business level.

Seniors realized that the digital world could bring many benefits to their lives. This new technology is something that phone calls and letters could not compete in many ways. The post office can go ‘on strike’ but the Internet doesn’t. But the Internet can go down briefly due to technical problems and not for weeks on end. It is also clear the internet was bringing people closer together in a stronger way than the previous mail and phone options … it bridges the distance between people much better than phones and regular mail. That is not to suggest that regular mail will be disappearing anytime soon. It is also more economical to use the Internet as opposed to travelling long distances to connect with loved ones.

In order to enjoy benefits of the digital world seniors had to learn how to use computers and to manoeuvre around cyberspace to connect loved ones and to use search options to seek out useful information. These seniors needed to be trained in order to reach a level of computer literacy that would allow them to enjoy the benefits this new technology could bring to their lives. Computer training for seniors needs to be designed to fit their needs.  It is important to find out how seniors want to use the Internet and provide specialized training for them. Some seniors do become stressed out and befuddled with the new technology particularly when there are technical glitches. Basic training can range from familiarizing seniors with the keyboard and mouse, creating and sending e-mail, searching the Internet, playing games, reading books online, using SKYPE or other chat options, online banking and much more. These activities will keep their brains sharp and help  improve their mental alertness.

Training sessions should include how to use laptops, tablets and various software that are more user-friendly … that reduces the learning curve not to mention possible stress. When it comes to computer training the main objective of many seniors is to maintain communications with family and friends. They also want to have quick and easy access to information about current news, weather and health issues. Hence the training should focus on those preferences. Seniors can also take advantage of opportunities for free computer training at community centres and libraries. Volunteers who provide in-house training sessions to those residing in senior residences focus on the preferences of their elderly trainees and achieve a good degree of success.  Seniors are also finding that exposure to the digital world through training videos is not as intimidating as they believed it would be. (Refer to the training videos links at the end.)

An important aspect of training seniors that must not be overlooked is to alert them of ‘scams and frauds’ that specifically target seniors. They must be made aware that not all information on the web is accurate or trustworthy.  Seniors also need to be acquainted with the need for password protection and be familiarized with other online risks related to financial scams and websites offering romantic hookups to lonely seniors. Refer to:  “Scams Against Seniors: Don’t Get Fleeced Out Of Your Golden Years” at: http://www.scambusters.org/seniors.html

Longevity has become a fact of life as we are living longer than ever and that brings with it all kinds of health issues related to ageing.  These changes have brought a new set of challenges for seniors who have to adapt in order to enjoy the quality of life’ they desire. This segment of the population has made great  contributions to the freedom and liberty we enjoy. The challenge is:  how to provide a ‘quality of life’ many seniors should have but don’t? When looking at ‘quality of life’ society seems to focus on more sustainability of pensions and health care costs and the impact on government finances. Governments should place more emphasis on other important aspects of the actual ‘quality of life’ of seniors such as benefits offered by the digital world. Those benefits can have a positive impact on the health of seniors.  Embracing the digital world can lessen the depression and other emotional and physical health problems associated with social isolation.

Seniors should not pass up the many health benefits of participating in the new technology.  Nonetheless, it should be acknowledged that the digital world should not be seen as a cure-all for social isolation and the debilitating health problems that longevity usually brings.  Hopefully more exposure to the digital world can transform ‘social isolation’ into ‘social inclusion’ and that  will have a positive impact on the lives of  seniors during their golden years.

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USEFUL LINKS:

Teaching seniors computer skills
http://www2.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/westisland/story.html?id=e116e776-9850-4fc0-b0c7-d1b4e69fa57d

How To Teach A Senior To Use A Computer
http://www.wikihow.com/Teach-a-Senior-to-Use-a-Computer

Are “Wired Seniors” Sitting Ducks?
http://pewresearch.org/pubs/16/are-wired-seniors-sitting-ducks

Training video links:
1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BSiTBEXv54
2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyRaz02h8JA

Posted in Connected seniors, Cyber seniors, Digital world, Elder population, Golden Years, Internet scams, Longevity, Quality of life, Retirement, Seniors online, Social isolation, Wired seniors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments