Posts by Mara

Shingles: A Legacy of Chicken Pox

Posted by on Mar 4, 2013 in Health Signals |

“Shingles” is a painful, blistering rash experienced by about 130,000 Canadians every year. Your risk of having an episode of shingles increases after age 50, but the majority of people experiencing shingles are 60 or older. Here are the ABC’s of shingles:   What are the symptoms of shingles? Shingles symptoms begin with headache, fever and the chills, and upset stomach. These often occur before the rash appears. Usually the rash occurs on one side of the trunk of the body but can also erupt on the buttocks, neck, face and scalp. The rash produces painful, reddish, fluid-filled blisters, which last 7 to 10 days. During this time, the blisters break, dry out, then crust over. The discomfort can range from an itchy, tingling sensation to severe pain. If severe, an infection can last more than a month. Unfortunately, some people have pain that persists even after the rash is gone (this is called post-herpetic neuralgia or PHN).  What causes shingles? Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox; namely, varicella-zoster or herpes zoster. After chickenpox symptoms have passed, the virus can hide out in the root of some nerves and then re-activate at any time to cause a painful skin rash. The rash occurs in the area of the body connected to the infected nerves. Who can develop shingles? About 1 in 5 adults will develop shingles. You must have been previously exposed to the virus and had chickenpox. Although it can occur at any age, the majority of people experiencing shingles are those over the age of 60. Some people may have more than one episode. Often an attack occurs when your immune system is already compromised. How is shingles treated? If you suspect you might have shingles, see your physician as soon as possible. The rash is usually easy to identify. Anti-viral drugs can help stop the spread of the rash and reduce the length of the infection. However, to be effective, these drugs must be given early in the course of the illness. Cool, moist compresses, calamine lotion, or other ointments applied to the rash can reduce the pain. Your physician or pharmacist can suggest the best products for you to use.  Is shingles contagious? To get shingles, you must already have had chickenpox at some point in your life. When you have shingles, the fluid from the blisters does contain the virus. Therefore, you could give chickenpox to someone who has not had it already. Avoid contact with people who have not had chickenpox. However, the reverse is not true; a person with chickenpox cannot give shingles to someone else because shingles occurs from the virus that is already present inside the body. Can shingles be prevented? A shingles vaccine is now available. The vaccine is not 100% effective but it does reduce your chances of developing shingles by about 50 percent. If you do get shingles after receiving the vaccine, you are more likely to have a milder infection and less likely to experience PHN.  Currently the vaccine is not covered by provincial health plans; you must pay privately. Because it requires specialized storage, not all clinics offer the vaccine.  Consult your physician to decide if you should consider receiving this...

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What’s Your Next Move: Housing Options for Later Life

Posted by on Feb 18, 2013 in Uncategorized |

What’s Your Next Move? Housing Options for Later Life Planning ahead for yourself – or together with family members? Join us as we discuss: Options for living arrangements as we grow older How to sort through, evaluate and choose the best option Specific things to do today, to avoid making poor decisions tomorrow This is a free presentation, but seating is limited. RSVP today by calling Courtney at (403) 258-1849 To see the event poster, click on the attachment below.    ...

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Caregivers Resisting Help

Posted by on Jan 7, 2013 in Caregiving |

Originally published January 2012 at Reprinted with permission. I have never been very good at asking for help and, like many family caregivers, I didn’t think that my own needs mattered. Thinking I had to do everything all the time caused me to have two breakdowns; once during my early years of caregiving and again in the last year of my 17-year caregiving journey. I wish I had known about the following statistics from a recent MetLife Study: Family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to age prematurely and this level of stress can take as much as 10 years off a family caregiver’s life. 40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression with approximately 25%-50% of these caregivers meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression. Stress of family caregiving for persons with dementia has been shown to impact a person’s immune system for up to three years after their caregiving ends thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves. I don’t know which statistic frightens me the most. But I do know that I have paid an emotional, physical and financial cost for being a caregiver. (I also loved taking care of my family.) It didn’t have to be that way. I could have and should have asked for help. But I am a caregiver and when people told me, “Just make time for yourself,” it wasn’t that easy. If you think about who in a family becomes the caregiver, it will usually be the person who is more nurturing and generous with their time. So by nature, the caregiver is the type of person who already gives more than others. And this becomes a vicious cycle of give – give – give instead of give – receive – give – receive. I recently said to my friend who is an overwhelmed caregiver, “Maybe now is a good time for the rest of your family to learn what they need to do to help their grandfather.” What I heard back from her were lots of excuses: They don’t want to help They don’t know what to do They don’t know him like I do They will just make it worse I don’t have time to teach them It is just easier if I do it I get tired of asking I don’t think they would help, even if I asked Why should I have to ask, they should just know what to do I don’t want to be a bother It is too much effort to ask Sound familiar? I realized in that moment that it isn’t always that the family won’t help; it is the caregiver who is resisting asking for help. So let me ask you. If you had a broken shoulder, would it be okay to ask someone to carry your groceries to the car? If your car broke down, could you call for a tow truck? When your loved one needs help, don’t you get them the help you need? Then why don’t you deserve the same attention? Your needs matter and you deserve to have someone help you. Here’s my Four-Step Process, to help you identify what keeps you from asking for help and to overcome your reluctance. Step 1: I encourage you to explore what is keeping you from asking. Write down what goes through your head when someone says, “You should just ask for help.” What are your resistance statements? Step 2: Take your list of resistance statements and put a statement beside it to help you get past what has been preventing...

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Secrets of Successful Conversations

Posted by on Dec 11, 2012 in Family Relationships, Sensitive Conversations |

When we wish to talk with our aging parents or our adult children about difficult or sensitive topics, we have two things to manage: the task of the conversation…and the emotions that accompany it. Each party to the conversation has needs which the other can help them meet. Simply being heard is a huge need, but receiving support, understanding, and acceptance are also important.  For each family, the pressing topic(s) will be different. But before you talk about health issues, getting help around the house, downsizing, driving or any other concerns, take some time to prepare and consider your approach: Think about what has contributed to effective conversations in the past, either with family or in other parts of your life. See the conversation as a process, not an event. Address one issue at a time. Set a mini-goal for the conversation, rather than pressing for a major decision after a single discussion. Each family has its own topics of concern but calmly discussing “what if?” scenarios may get better results than pressuring for immediate decisions. Help the other person(s) prepare.  Send a letter, an email, or phone ahead if you think it’s time for a serious talk. Brush up your listening skills, such as watching body language, re-stating what you have heard, and asking open-ended questions.   Whatever topic you choose to discuss, include these ABCD’s in your conversation:   A is for attitudes and assumptions: Why does Mom think staying put is best? Why do you believe she should move closer to you?   B is for boundaries: The adult child can talk about what they can and cannot do for your parents. The older parent can clarify which decisions they want to make for themselves, without well-meaning interference from their grown children.   C is for changes, now and in the future: Talk about changes you’ve noticed, but do it without making a judgment or attaching meaning to them, e.g., “Dad, I notice the fridge isn’t as well stocked as it used to be.” Don’t express opinions or make suggestions at this point.   Once the changes are acknowledged, talk about what those changes might mean to the person experiencing them, e.g., “How is your appetite?” or “How are you managing with the grocery shopping?”     D is for decisions to be made or deferred:  The decision can be to take action on an issue now, or simply to schedule another time and place to keep planning. Wherever possible, ask – don’t tell – and decide on next steps collaboratively. Using this ABCD framework can help you move forward, guided by your family and personal values.    Sensitive conversations can help you know where things stand, what to expect, what needs to be done. They can build relationships, allowing you to express feelings, and learn how others feel. They are the foundation of building strong relationships and solid plans for the future.   For more tips on what to do during the conversation, and what to do when conversations get stuck, consult the Sensitive Conversations section in the ElderWise e-guide, Age-Smart Planning. This e-guide also covers the “top ten” topics you and your family need to address to be proactive and prepared.     (c) ElderWise Inc., 2012   You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents…and anyone wishing to do “age-smart” planning. Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.          ...

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Health Risks & Family History

Posted by on Nov 18, 2012 in Health Signals |

We don’t choose our blood relatives but, in some cases, our future health may depend on knowing more about them! Our genetic make-up may increase our risk or pre-dispose us to developing chronic conditions or diseases. Knowing our family’s health history may help us take steps today to prolong both our years of life…and add life to our years!   Lifestyle choices have a major effect on our health, but tuning into our family health history helps us know our risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer. Identifying these risks early on can spur us to take action to reduce them.   According to a recent article published by Manulife Financial, here are some things to look for in your family’s health history: several closely related individuals affected with the same or related conditions a common disease that occurred at an earlier age than expected (i.e., 10 to 20 years before most people would get the disease) sudden death in someone who seemed healthy an individual or couple with three or more pregnancy losses a disease that does not usually affect a certain gender (e.g., breast cancer in a male) certain combinations of diseases within a family (e.g., breast and ovarian cancer, or heart disease and diabetes) To put the risks in perspective, the article also suggests looking at the lifestyle habits of family members who have the same disease. This could be a key factor in increasing or decreasing your risk, depending on whether you share or avoid the same lifestyle habits.   Your whole family can benefit from you taking the lead on compiling your family’s health history. Include grandparents, parents and their immediate families as well as your own siblings, their children and yours, in these discussions.  Consult older family members who may recall information about relatives that you may never have known. Here are some things you can ask about: A list of health problems How long family members lived, and what they died from Pregnancy losses or birth defects Ethnicity (some conditions are more common in certain groups) Lifestyle habits that may have contributed to longevity, early illness or premature death   Share what you find out with your family doctor. Our family history is usually only one of several risk factors. Work with your doctor to help assess risks both for you and younger family members, and put together a plan for reducing those risks. (c) ElderWise Inc., 2012. You have permission to reprint any ElderWise INFO, provided you do so in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc., Canada’s go-to place for boomers with aging parents and for anyone who wants to do “age-smart” planning. For more information, visit     Ready to compile your own or your family’s health history? Learn more about our interactive workbook, My Passport to Health and Wellness.  ...

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