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

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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:
Ontario moves to scale back annual physical exams in new deal with doctors
Wealthier Ontario seniors may be asked to pay for home care costs

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 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:

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

The Entrepreneurial Senior

Retirement used to be about a time when we look forward to enjoying a more relaxed lifestyle after decades of slogging away in the workforce. It was envisioned by many retirees as a time to enjoy a life of independence, to spend more time with family and friends, travelling and engaging in activities that gave them enjoyment and satisfaction.

Alas, this is a time of great malaise and financial instability in most world economies. That vulnerability has had a negative impact on retirement savings of those looking forward to enjoying their golden years.  Many retirees, to their dismay, have to come to terms with the fact that their retirement dreams either have to be set aside or abandoned. These retirees are mostly baby boomers. They either have to remain in the work place longer than planned or be creative in generating additional income to replenish their retirement savings, often depleted by poor investment advice. They have become The Old and The Restless” ….. restless to strike out on their own and become entrepreneurs and address anxieties that they might outlive their pension.  This scenario appears to be the catalyst that is giving birth to the surge of entrepreneurial seniors’.

The entrepreneurial surge is a remarkable development occurring in the baby boomer generation. This rapidly expanding demographic is frequently described as being more healthy and wealthy, and much better educated than the previous generation of seniors. Sadly, not all baby boomers have accumulated considerable wealth and many are burdened by debt. A significant number carry heavy debt loads such as mortgages and other debts into their retirement years. Some also have to support unemployed offspring in the ongoing recession. This situation has led to the growth in ‘seniors entrepreneurship’.

Becoming an entrepreneur is an attractive option to supplement inadequate pension savings and also to satisfy a desire to becoming an independent business person. Some seniors tend to be drawn more towards  service-oriented projects such as care-giving, home-help services, or beautician services that don’t require a huge financial investment to get started. Other retirees establish a start-up business that requires more capital investment for selling a high-end product or service. It  is important to ensure the business venture is viable and is not in a ‘dying industry’ or the business will have a short life cycle. The digital age, with computers and information technology, has created numerous business opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs. To their credit, a  significant number of boomers are well-versed in the technology and can take advantage of the opportunities it spawns.

Establishing a business is a major undertaking at any stage of life from both a financial and personal perspective. There are daunting’ challenges’ but also great ‘rewards’. In setting up a business most entrepreneurs have to make ‘sacrifices’, especially in the initial phase.  Budding entrepreneurs should take note that many start-ups fail within the first two years of a business. Some entrepreneurs have great enthusiasm but lack  business acumen. It is essential to be disciplined and make sacrifices by working harder than you ever have to achieve success.

Aspiring entrepreneurs must become well-versed in accounting, income tax laws, various government regulations for small business, and very important, satisfying and maintaining your customer base. Other challenges include developing a good business plan, solidifying access to additional capital, improving financial literacy to make sense of financial statements, dealing with suppliers, maintaining relationships with other entrepreneurs, hiring good staff and, also crucial, finding and keeping customers to ensure the long-term success of the business.

Apart from financial considerations, there are other reasons why seniors choose to become entrepreneurs …  they can finally make their own business decisions!  The idea of entrepreneurship takes shape in their mind and the desire to set up a business becomes an attractive option to ensure a stable source of income and create a needed product or service. Whatever the reasons behind the decision to become entrepreneurs, it seems that the fragile economy and ‘longevity’ of seniors have become a driving force fuelling this remarkable development. They are following their ‘passion’ but in order to be successful that passion must be tempered by focussing on the bottom line.

Clearly, establishing your own business can have multiple rewards. Setting up a business is not only about money which is the primary goal.  In fact, successful entrepreneurs get personal satisfaction by fulfilling the needs of other people through the services and products they offer. One of the best rewards aside from the success of the business is the ‘feeling of pride’ that the new entrepreneur enjoys with all that they have achieved. So to those who are “The Old and Restless” and considering entrepreneurship the message is …. it is never too late to re-invent yourself in order to make a contribution to your community and fulfill dreams of running your own business.

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Below are helpful links on setting up a business:

Starting Your Business
http://www.canadabusiness.ca/eng/page/2856

Starting a Business in Canada – Make sure you are ready for entrepreneurship
http://www.canadaone.com/tools/startingabusiness.html

Guide for Canadian Small Business – Guide for Starting a Business
http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pub/tg/rc4070/

Posted in Baby boomers, Business start ups, Entrepreneurial Seniors, Entrepreneurs, Retirement, Seniors demographic, Small business | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Deferred Pension Benefits – Who Really Benefits?

The changes to pension benefits proposed  by the Harper government have left many of us with a troubling  question – “Who really benefits from these changes?” According to the proposed legislation, the purpose of these changes is to put OAS on a sustainable track to meet the challenge of the ageing population. The changes will affect  CPP (Canada Pension Plan), OAS  (Old Age Security) and GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement).

The legislation is intended to head off the financial challenges associated with our expanding senior’s population and also to help balance the budget. These changes focus mainly on the age eligibility rules that defer pension benefits – the eligibility age will be raised from 65 to 67 and benefits will increase. This paints a more positive image of the financial benefits future recipients will have by raising the age from 65 to 67 and increasing benefits. However, many commentators have argued the government is ‘kicking the can down the road’ by making the changes effective 2023.  Could it be that the Harper government does not want to alienate a certain cohort of voters by this deferral? The changes will impact those currently  under the age of 54 who will be retiring in about 10 years.

Although the deferral of CPP benefits is optional for seniors who qualify, the recipients who choose to take benefits at the qualifying age of 60 will have drastically reduced benefits.  However, if seniors  delay their benefits until age 67 they will have an advantage in terms of increased benefits payments. It appears, the government is waving a carrot to those who are considering taking CPP earlier than age 67. As mentioned above, deferring the implementation of the CPP changes for 2023 will definitely impact those who are currently middle-aged – i.e. under the age of 54.  This group will find that raising the age of eligibility by two years will affect their financial plans hence will be forced to re-organize their long-term finances to secure their own pensions.

Of greater concern are the changes to OAS and GIS benefits. The deferral of OAS and GIS will have the most dramatic impact on those who qualify for these benefits — i.e. recipients of OAS and GIS are in the lower income bracket. They will have to wait for an additional 2 years to qualify for OAS and GIS benefits. Under the proposed legislation the seniors in this category will face financial hardship if  OAS and GIS benefits are deferred.  Will this vulnerable group be pushed into more poverty? Strangely enough some seniors in a higher income bracket  who were eligible for the OAS but never bothered to claim these benefits will automatically receive these benefits without applying.  Why was this change introduced if it will cost the government more?  Refer to this link for more details: http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/services/pensions/oas/changes/index.shtml

While the OAS pensions changes are an attempt to reflect the changing demographics there isn’t much consideration to the fact that there will come a time when age-related health issues will burden health services. True enough many in the baby boomer cohort have embraced a more healthy lifestyle and are expected to live longer but as we age we also become more susceptible to more serious health issues associated with ageing. What about those retirees from high risk professions (e.g. manual labour, manufacturing, mining etc.)  where injuries or serious long-term health problems are commonplace?  Will they be around long enough to gain from the increased benefits that have been deferred? Will the health care system cover the health costs associated with illnesses caused by the type of professions they had? How long will the health care system be in place for low income seniors if the economy continues to stagnate? Will seniors on modest incomes eventually have to resort to costly private health coverage?

In this discussion about pension benefits the ‘gold-plated pension’ benefits for MPs should not be overlooked… that tab is picked up by taxpayers! There was a token attempt to convey the impression of fairness by the Harper government to spread the pain to MPs but it is not very convincing. When we look at how our pensions stack up against those of politicians we have to ask – “In what other profession can a worker expect to receive a minimum of $35,000 annual pension that MPs are entitled to receive after working for only 6 years?”  Further, these politicians usually make sure to establish lucrative business contacts that eventually lead to well-paying positions in corporations or other government agencies after leaving politics. Refer to this link: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/03/28/budget-pensions.html

Since seniors will have to remain longer in the workplace an obvious outcome of this deferral is the unemployment spike affecting younger workers  – even today younger workers are vying with older experienced workers for jobs. Will there be sufficient jobs for the younger generation with the increased presence of seniors in the workplace? The most recent census data confirmed the demographic shift in our population distribution and gives sufficient notice to both government, private enterprise and social agencies that there could be challenging times ahead if better policies are not put in place to deal with the implications of the changing demographics.

The projected demographics are expected to become a reality and younger workers will have a challenging time finding work. They will not benefit from the deferral. Younger workers will have to finance their own pension benefits in a tightening economic environment since ’the can has been kicked down the road’. Hence the question remains – “Who really benefits from these changes?”

Posted in 2012 Census, Baby boomers, Canada Health Care, CPP, Demographics, Economy, GIS, Guaranteed Income Supplement, Health Care, OAS, Old Age Security, Pension Reform, Pensioners health care | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments