Healthy Living in the North

Coffee Break: Taking 5 for Alzheimer’s disease

Finally, a worthwhile reason to drink coffee!

Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a pretty scary topic for most of us, yet it’s also a very real part of life for so many of us. It’s estimated that 70,000 British Columbians are affected by dementia, and this number is growing (Alzheimer Society BC). Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are also quite commonly misunderstood. For instance, what is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia? If I misplace my keys on a regular basis, does that mean I have Alzheimer’s? There are too many myths and realities about the disease to list in one small story.

My grandpa, forever a farmer, never lost his love for animals.

For me personally, it’s a topic that is very near and dear to my heart, having spent several years working with people living with dementia, as well as having lived the experience as my Grandpa lived and eventually passed away with the disease. I knew him as my boisterous & jolly “Papa Bear,” and even as he deteriorated, we still saw glimpses of his old self shining through. Put a mouth organ in his hands, he would soon be treating you to a foot-tapping tune; place his favourite foods in front of him (of which there were many!), and he was in his glory!

I learned a few very important things from my time spent with people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias:

  • No matter how buried or hidden, your loved one is still there.
  • Live in the moment! If it’s a good moment, grab it and enjoy it for all it’s worth! If it’s a bad moment, do your best to take care of your loved one and yourself and wait for better moments to come (they will!).
  • Try not to focus on what the person can’t do, but rather capitalize on what they are still able to do and enjoy in order to preserve and promote quality of life.
  • Living a healthy lifestyle, like keeping your brain and body active, sleeping and eating well, and maintaining social connections can help prevent, delay the onset, or slow the progression of the disease. (Watch this great video: What you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s.)

You might be wondering, “What does this all have to do with drinking coffee?” I’m glad you asked! What if I told you that you could help raise awareness and funds to support Alzheimer’s related services and programs over your next cup of coffee? Coffee Break® is a national annual fundraiser where friends, families and co-workers gather in communities to raise money for their local Alzheimer Society. Hosts and attendees make their coffee count by exchanging donations for a cup of coffee, tea, or other treat. It’s very easy to join or host a coffee break, and you can do it anywhere and anytime during the months of September and October! If you can’t host a coffee break this year, you can still help out by texting the word “COFFEE” to 45678 to donate $5 to the Alzheimer Society of B.C. How simple is that? Doesn’t it feel good to do something for a great cause? My “Papa Bear” and I thank you!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Coming together on the shores of Babine Lake

IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.

This story was originally published in Healthier You magazine.


Group of people in community hall

“Our luncheons became a huge social thing. Granisle has a population of 300 and we had upwards of 75 people attending our lunch events!”

Across Canada, research has shown that over 90% of older adults live independently in the community and wish to remain there. In smaller northern communities, however, supporting older residents to age in place can be a challenge.

With the help of IMAGINE Community Grants in 2014 and 2015, the Village of Granisle, a beautiful community of 300 people on the shores of Babine Lake, has responded to this challenge!

Granisle was named an Age-Friendly Community in 2014 and ever since, “for every project we do, our first thought is: how can this be inclusive and accessible,” said Lisa Rees, office assistant with the Village of Granisle. “Our IMAGINE-funded projects flow out of this designation.”

So, what did they do?

“We’ve got two projects under the same healthy living umbrella,” said Rees. “The first of those projects is a monthly healthy eating luncheon for seniors; the second, an exercise program for seniors.”

Don’t be fooled by the “for seniors” label, though, because these projects don’t turn anybody away! “Our luncheons became a huge social thing,” said Rees. “Granisle has a population of 300 and we had upwards of 75 people attending our lunch events!” The project promotes health not just through healthy eating, but also through social connections!

People walking on path

The community luncheons were about more than just healthy eating! Some events included walks, information sessions, and routine tests from nurses.

With an IMAGINE grant paying for the healthy food, the luncheons were designed with accessibility, learning, fun, and community in mind:

  • Attendees got a free, hot meal. Extra food was delivered to vulnerable local residents unable to leave their homes.
  • Different groups hosted the luncheons in different locations. The local Lions Club, local Council, Seniors Association, and local school all hosted luncheons. The event at the school was held together with an open house, showing that the school could be a community gathering space.
  • Before a summer park luncheon, attendees were invited to join a walk along a local trail and rubberized path.
  • Local health nurses joined the luncheons and offered participants health information and the chance to complete some routine health tests.
  • Along with their meals, attendees got to see nutrition tips from registered dietitians on their tables.

“It was more than just healthy eating,” said Rees. “People would sit and linger over coffee, we had local students helping with the cooking when the school hosted a luncheon, and programs like Better At Home did presentations.”

The second Granisle project tackles another important risk factor: sedentary behaviour.

“We want to help community members in Granisle to stay active,” said Emily Kaehn, economic development/administrative coordinator with the Village of Granisle. “With our new IMAGINE funds, we’re buying exercise gear – walking poles, ice grippers, snowshoes, yoga equipment, exercise bands, and more – to stock a local equipment library. Preventing injury and keeping older adults active is key to aging in place.”

Aerial photo of Granisle

“Come out to Granisle! It’s well worth a stop – it’s a beautiful place to visit and to be!”

Looking ahead, the Village of Granisle is looking for funding to continue the monthly luncheons and is hoping to expand the exercise gear program into broader recreation programming. “Partnerships are key,” said Kaehn. “The clinic and women’s group are involved in our exercise program and there are many clubs and groups involved in the luncheons. In a small community, it takes a lot of hands to get things to fruition and the village has really come together around health and aging.”

When probed for her last thoughts about the community and its healthy living projects, Lisa Rees encouraged everyone to check it out for themselves: “Come out to Granisle! It’s well worth a stop – it’s a beautiful place to visit and to be!”

Learn along with residents of Granisle! Here are just a couple of the healthy eating tips from their monthly community luncheons:

  • What small change can you make today? Consider water instead of pop to drink, or turkey instead of beef in your chili.
  • Develop your Sodium Sense. Flavour foods with herbs and spices instead of salt. An herb like thyme is tasty with chicken, veal, salads, and vegetables!

Three grant writing tips from Emily Kaehn (Village of Granisle):

  1. “The IMAGINE grant process was very straightforward. Program staff were very supportive. If you are thinking of applying and have an idea, call them first!”
  2. “Lots of municipalities have grant writers. They are a great resource. Start your application process there.”
  3. “Forward grant opportunities far and wide. Everyone has the community’s best interest at heart and sharing information ultimately helps everyone out.”
Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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“A gateway to many opportunities for Elders”: The Nadleh Whut’en First Nation Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder program

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


The number of people aged 65 or older is growing faster in northern B.C. than it is elsewhere in the province. As you may have noticed on the blog recently, this has made healthy aging a very important focus for all of us!

A key part of Northern Health’s Healthy Aging in the North: Action Plan is to support healthy aging in the community. Older adults enjoy living independently in the community and want to stay there! To make this happen, they need a variety of opportunities to stay active and involved in community life.

Staff supporting elder on a bicycle

The Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event series has gotten Elders moving, eating healthy, connected, and socializing.

Near Fort Fraser, the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation provides a model to do just that!

With the support of an IMAGINE grant, the Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event series has gotten Elders moving, eating healthy, connected, and socializing. With some donated space, local expertise, and equipment purchased with an IMAGINE grant, Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder is a great example of how one idea – getting Elders moving at a monthly gathering – can blossom and create so many additional benefits!

What became clear early in the program is that Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder was about more than just getting Elders moving, its original goal. According to Lisa Ketlo with the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation,

This event has accomplished many things: healthy eating, socializing, physical activities, [assessing] health concerns or issues, [and] monitoring wellness of Elders and community members.

For the physical activity component of the project, Nadleh Whut’en “had Elders and community members out walking, using a 3-wheel bike, or using the chair gym. [We] made members realize no matter how old we are, if we don’t use it, we lose it!” According to Ketlo, the program encouraged connections across generations, too, as it “opens the doors for many younger generations to get physically active and take care of their bodies inside and out.” The 3-wheel bike, for example, helped youth test their balance and made some local office workers realize they didn’t do enough physical activity! The Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event now regularly sees up to 16 participants ranging in age from 19-81.

Three people walking

Social connections have been a key feature of the Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder project.

In addition to the physical activity benefits, Ketlo reflected on the impact related to social connectedness – a key piece of healthy aging.

I was shocked with some members who attended Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder. Some of these Elders never leave their home and now look forward to attending the event. I also see them at more community events and socializing with others […] Elders get to be involved with community events and not isolated at home. We had one Elder [who had been] isolated and depressed at home. Since she began attending Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder, she has been going out to more community events and going out to shop for herself!

Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder is not just about connecting Elders with one another and with youth in the community. The program also let Elders connect directly with health care professionals in a non-medical setting, which was huge!

This event has opened many doors for the community members, frontline workers, and nurses […] The members involved with the event are able to socialize with community members and frontline workers – to have someone to talk to and not be judged. When trust comes into play, then Elders will open and share any health, financial, or abuse issues – or just to admit they are unable to do tasks they once were able to achieve and ask for help […] We are able to visit with Elders and members with health issues, the nurse is able to monitor members with any health concerns or catch any signs of health issues arising […] To have community nurse on site really helps her to build trust with Elders. They are more willing to do blood pressure, sugar testing, [and discuss] any issues they have developed and what medication they are taking and how important it is to take medication […] We achieved goals [we weren’t] able to achieve before, like getting blood pressure, blood sugar, and pulse [measurements] on a regular basis.

Ketlo believes that Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder can be re-created by others. For Nadleh Whut’en, the IMAGINE grant provided funds for various pieces of equipment to support safe and healthy physical activity: runners, umbrellas (for shade in the summer), 3-wheel bikes, chair gym equipment, weights, snowshoes, ice grippers, high-visibility vests, and more!

Elder on a tricycle

“This grant is a gateway to many opportunities for Elders and community members through physical activities.” What kind of gateway to health can you create in your community?

Ketlo has a few suggestions for other communities looking to initiate a similar program:

  • Feed guests and visitors! By providing healthy snacks and drinks, more community members were encouraged to take part and the event was able to teach Elders and all participants about the importance of healthy eating and drinking.
  • Never hold an event for Elders on Old Age Pension day! The very first Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event took place on pension day and only one participant attended.
  • Involve local experts. Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder benefited from the expertise of a physical therapist able to suggest appropriate exercises and resources for Elders.
  • Meet people where they’re at. Many Elders at the community event were much more open to getting a checkup from the local nurse than they would be at the Health Centre.

Ketlo sums up the impact of the IMAGINE grant, the Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder program, and healthy aging work in this way:

This grant is a gateway to many opportunities for Elders and community members through physical activities.

What kind of gateway to healthy living can you create in your community?


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Foodie Friday: Seniors’ Week edition

Senior gardening with kids

Don’t miss out on essential nutrients as you age!

As we age, our appetites decrease and we often pay less attention to nutrition. Many seniors live alone and have difficulty finding motivation to cook proper meals and therefore may miss out on many essential nutrients. With Seniors’ Week in B.C. upon us, it’s a great time to look at one of these essential nutrients: calcium!

Are you getting enough calcium?

Health Canada recommends women over the age of 51 and men over the age of 70 get 1200 mg of calcium each day. Men under 70 require only 1000 mg. It’s recommended that we reach this goal through a combination of nutrient-rich foods, using supplements only when necessary. Always talk to your doctor or registered dietitian before taking a calcium supplement.

So what does 1200 mg look like? A good rule of thumb is that a serving of dairy contains approximately 300 mg of calcium. One serving might look like a 50 g serving of cheese (the size of your thumb), 1 cup of milk, or ¾ cup yogurt. If you typically drink a milk alternative such as rice or almond milk, check the label to make sure it’s fortified with calcium. One cup should provide you with about 30% of your daily value.

Although dairy products are the most popular calcium source, many non-dairy foods are great sources of calcium as well. My current favourite is chia seeds. Due to their increase in popularity, they are now easy to find in most stores and are versatile when it comes to how you can use them. Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain about half the calcium of a cup of milk! Want to add some calcium to your diet? Try this chia seed jam as an alternative to the store-bought varieties! Have an older friend, family member, or neighbour? Why not make them a jar or two and stop by for a visit!

Magical Blueberry Vanilla Chia Seed Jam

From Oh She Glows (one of my go-to blogs!)

Yields about 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh blueberries
  • 3-4 tbsp pure maple syrup, to taste (or other liquid sweetener)
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. In a non-stick pot, bring blueberries and maple syrup to a low boil. Stir frequently and reduce heat to simmer for about 5 minutes. Lightly mash with a potato masher or fork, leaving some blueberries for texture.
  2. Stir in the chia seeds until thoroughly combined and cook the mixture down until it thickens to your desired consistency (about 15 minutes). Stir frequently so it doesn’t stick to the pot.
  3. Once the jam is thick, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Add more maple syrup to taste if desired. Share a jar with an older neighbour or friend or enjoy on toast, baked goods, and more. The jam should keep for at least a week in an air-tight container in the fridge.
Sarah Anstey

About Sarah Anstey

Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sarah moved to Prince George in 2013 to pursue her career as a Registered Dietitian. Since then, she has enjoyed developing her skills as a Clinical Dietitian with Northern Health, doing her part to help the people of northern B.C. live healthy and happy lives. Sarah looks at her move to Prince George as an opportunity to travel and explore a part of Canada that is new to her, taking in all that B.C. has to offer.

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Healthy aging with Dzi’is

Woman walking on pipeline.

Walking the water pipeline with Gramma to pick berries. (Photo by Ann King)

How do you age well? I could tell you about research on the importance of active engagement and participating in productive activities that promote societal values (if you’re interested, I recommend checking out work by Verena H. Menec), but research has never been my best teacher.

My Dzi’is (Gramma*) taught me, among many other things, how to live and age well. She went to be with her sisters and brothers last July 14th but her lessons and memories remain.

I remember being 10 years old and harvesting eeyaans** (black chiton – a type of mollusk) with Gramma and my mom at Ridley Island near Prince Rupert. Gramma had her hair done and was dressed impeccably with her black ballet-style flats. We carried with us ice cream buckets and butter knives to pry the eeyaans off the rocks so that we could collect them. Gramma led the way and at one point she asked us to help her down a jagged six to seven foot rock face to reach a prime harvesting spot while the tide was out.

My mother climbed down first, leaving me at the top to lower my 60-year-old Gramma down to her. I remember thinking, as I held her forearms and hands, “This is way too much responsibility for me! I’m dangling Gramma off a tiny cliff for food!” My mom guided Gramma’s ballet flats into good footholds and she made it down in one piece! We went home, exhausted, with full buckets and Gramma went to work cooking up what we had harvested.

Young girl with bucket

Jessie picking berries and flowers with Gramma and mom.
(Photo by Ann King)

All of my memories of my Dzi’is involve food gathering (eeyaans and berries) or hunting in local markets and second-hand stores for treasures; all of which exhausted me and energized her. She taught me to stay active and social and to keep your family busy. She never spoke directly about how she felt about aging, but she definitely did it well!

Through her example, I learned the importance of activities that promote not only societal values, but cultural and traditional ones, too. Aging well for her was being Tsimshian and everything that identity encompasses.


Notes

* There are many variants of some Sm’algyax (Tsimshian) words such as Gramma or Grandma – Dzi’is or Tsi’i’is are common versions.

** Eeyaan, commonly known as the black leather chiton, is a type of mollusk harvested from the bottom or sides of rocks in heavy surf areas.


This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Healthier You magazine. All past issues of the magazine are available online.

 

 

Jessie King

About Jessie King

Jessie, Hadiksm Gaax, was born in raised in Prince Rupert and came to Prince George in 2005 to attend UNBC. Her role at Northern Health is within the Aboriginal Health department as the Lead of Research and Community Engagement. When she isn’t working on her PhD in Health Science, she is out and about exploring, swimming, and playing with her little family. She is a member of the Tsimshian Nation and belongs to the Ganhada (Raven Clan).

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Invest in your mind – use that muscle in your head!

This month, we want to know how you are preparing for the future by investing in your health! Tell us (or show us) what you do to invest in your body, your mind, and your relationships for your chance to win great weekly prizes and a $150 grand prize! To inspire you, we’ll be featuring regular healthy aging content on the Northern Health Matters blog all month long!


Puzzle on a table

Puzzles, learning something new, being creative, and reading are great ways to exercise your brain! How do you invest in your mind?

I have to admit this was a frustrating morning. I couldn’t find my truck keys. When I get home from work, I always put my truck keys in the same spot. So why weren’t they there this morning? There are two likely explanations for this. Either I put my keys somewhere else and promptly forgot about that, or gremlins hid them on me. I blamed the gremlins, and as it turned out, I was right. They stole my keys and hid them in my coat pocket!

While not everyone may suffer the scourge of key hiding gremlins, one thing is for sure. As we age, our brains change. It’s normal to experience some changes in some cognitive functions such as memory or visuospatial abilities. While it’s true that conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are associated with aging, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help maintain a healthy brain.

The point is that investing in your brain is very important to healthy aging. So how can you do that?

Think of your brain as a muscle

Your brain is much like a muscle in the fact that regular exercise helps keep it healthy. Numerous studies have shown that “exercising your brain” has real benefits. For instance, a study at Stanford University found that memory loss can be improved by 30 to 50 per cent through doing mental exercises.

So how can you exercise your brain? Well there are the usual suggestions such as:

  • Taking a course at your local college or university.
  • Reading newspapers, magazines and books.
  • Playing games that make you think like Scrabble, cards, Trivial Pursuit, checkers or chess.
  • Engaging in creative activities such as drawing, painting or woodworking.
  • Doing crossword puzzles and word games.

Think outside the box

Sometimes, it can be helpful to think outside the box as well. If you like watching game shows, try to guess the answer before the contestants. Or the next time you’re at a social gathering, use the opportunity to engage in stimulating conversations.

While technology may be baffling at times, learn to use it to your advantage. Look into using apps or games for your tablet or smartphone that exercise your brain. Many offer a free version that let you try before purchasing a full version. If there isn’t a college or university in your community, look online for courses. Most post-secondary institutions offer many courses and programs online. Some websites such as coursera and edX offer free courses from various colleges and universities.

Manage lifestyle risk factors

Staying physically active, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, making healthy food choices and eating a well-balanced and healthy diet rich in cereals, fish, legumes and vegetables are all good investments in a healthy brain. While genetics certainly plays a role in the aging process, you do have control over how you live life. Choosing a healthy lifestyle will pay off with a better quality of life.

Manage stress

It’s also important to make sure that you manage stress. Stress wears us down both mentally and physically over time. Even a low level of stress can be detrimental to our health if it persists for an extended period. Look for more on managing stress in my next blog post!

So, what will you do this week to invest in your mind and keep the gremlins from stealing your keys? Remember to send us a picture or quick line about how you kept your brain engaged.

(What am I doing to stay mentally engaged? I’m working on a gremlin trap!)

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.

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Staying active, eating well, and connecting with family and community: Healthy aging resources

Magazine cover with two seniors dancing

The new issue of Healthier You magazine is out now and it’s all about healthy aging!

Have you thought about your winter reading list yet? Make sure that the newest issue of Healthier You magazine is on it!

The new issue is all about healthy aging. It’s got lots of tips for seniors but what I found especially cool is how the magazine reminded me that we all have a role to play in healthy aging! Sharing stories across generations benefits everyone, young and old! Older adults can make a couple small changes to their physical activity routines to make their golden years safe and healthy. Seniors can draw on community centres and educators for resources on everything from sexual health to social dances. What can you do to support healthy aging?

For me, a few highlights in this issue are:

  • Healthy Aging with Dzi’is: As I read this story of how Jessie’s grandma embodied healthy aging, I immediately thought of some of the seniors in my life and how inspiring their community engagement, physical activity, stories, and traditions can be!
  • Brain Dance for Seniors: I love hearing about the great programs that are offered across northern B.C. The experiences of the “Brain Dance” participants made me want to connect with my local rec program to see what types of neat activities are on offer!
  • From Little Acorns…To me, the idea of seniors helping seniors in Fort St. James is such a cool model for healthy aging! I loved Theresa and Emily’s description of seniors in Fort St. James as “community assets” who play a key role in building strong relationships and enhancing the community’s health and well-being.

What was your favourite article? Check out the full magazine on ISSUU and remember that all past issues are also available online!

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Aging with dignity, respect and purpose

This is the last in a series of posts about social connections and healthy aging. You’ve got one week left to show us how you, your family, and your community stay connected. Enter our photo contest for your chance at great weekly prizes and a grand prize valued at $250!

Three people posing for photo following a running race.

Supported by family in more ways than one, Holly’s recent marathon finish provided her with a chance to reflect on our aging journeys and the importance of supporting everyone to age with dignity, respect and purpose.

On a recent vacation back home, I was reminded of the impacts of aging in my own family.

I got to spend some time with my two remaining grandparents. They are now in their nineties (92 and 95, to be exact) and both of them continue to live in their own homes. Due to recent health issues, they have had to become more reliant on family and neighbours to help with tasks like putting out the garbage, gardening and rides to and from their many health care appointments. Both are strong women who have raised large families, and neither likes that they have to ask others for help. Seeing them, I was reminded of why social connections like the ones we’ve been talking about for the last month on this blog are so important to helping seniors age in place.

In a different generation, my father, a lifelong runner, just celebrated his 65th birthday and had planned on commemorating the event by running another marathon with myself and my siblings. However, after suffering a knee injury, he was told that running was no longer an option for him and he was not able to take part. Although my brother and I ran in his honour, I know that my dad was sad that he couldn’t run right along with us and participate in an activity which has been a part of his identity.

For me, the common threads that weave these experiences together are dignity, respect and purpose.

We leave school and charge into our early twenties looking for purpose. Seeking respect in our jobs, life, and from our family and friends. From that – and especially through our independence – we develop a sense of dignity or satisfaction that we have worth and value in the world.

However, as we age, those skills and abilities that we have worked so hard to grow start to slowly chip away. Our mobility may decrease. Our memories are no longer as sharp. Our roles and responsibilities as employees or parents may decrease. We spend our leisure time differently. In the later stages of aging, many of the tasks that many of us take for granted (driving, bathing, cooking our own meals, etc.) are often reassigned as well. We may start to question our purpose and our worth, our sense of self.

But just because someone has a wrinkle or two doesn’t mean that they don’t have worth, purpose, or dignity. And this very thought can have serious health impacts. The idea that older adults can’t or shouldn’t be given the same opportunities as others is referred to as ageism – “the most tolerated social prejudice in Canada.” Countering ageism – supporting everyone to age with dignity, respect and purpose – is key to keeping our communities and loved ones healthy.

We can do more to support people to age with dignity, respect and purpose. In health care, we’ve already made great advances in how we support seniors to live more independently, but what about in our own lives? Do you recognize the contributions of seniors in your community? Do you recruit and engage adults of all ages in planning and projects? Do you reach out to older adults who may be shy with a phone call or a visit?

Our previous healthy aging blog posts have talked about the significance of removing barriers to inclusion as people age. They’ve also highlighted the importance of bringing the generations together, whether within a family or a community to support the sharing of stories, skills and information. Volunteering our time and staying connected with social groups also give us meaningful work to do. Being included and having a role to play is a great way to show someone that they’re needed and valued – at any age.

“Being accorded dignity and respect as elders in the community contributes to preserving a sense of well-being, including the ability to share knowledge, having a purpose and feeling as though one is making a difference.” Let’s Talk about Healthy Aging and Seniors’ Wellness, Northern Health, 2013

So, as we all continue on our own aging journeys, let us be mindful of the ways in which we show value to those who have gone on ahead of us and gratefulness to those younger than us who have our backs. Sharing running stories and training advice with my dad was so valuable to me, and his purpose as a “runner” was served in a different way. However, sharing the experience with my brother (he is 16 years my junior) gave me new-found respect for the abilities of my aging body.


Photo Contest

From Oct. 12 – Nov. 8, send in a photo showing how you stay connected and healthy for your chance to win great prizes (including a $250 grand prize) and help your community!

The challenge for Week 4 is: “Show us how older adults volunteer in your community!” Submit your photo at https://blog.northernhealth.ca/connect.

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.

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Healthy living for healthy aging

Woman on a boat

“Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.” Judy Gerow shares her thoughts on health and aging.

Judy Gerow is member of the Kitselas First Nation and has been in Band Council for over 20 years: two years as Chief and the rest as Councillor. She is a mother of six, a stepmother of an additional six, and is also raising her granddaughter. Throughout her whole life, her health has been on her mind. I had the privilege of asking Judy a few questions about her experiences of health and aging and am excited to share her thoughts and story below.

Do you believe that health is a journey?

Yes, absolutely, I think it’s a journey! Your physical and mental health play a big part in your well-being and need to be in balance to be truly healthy.

When did you start really considering your health?

Even though I have always been thinking about my health, it was after I became a mother that I realized how important it was to take care of myself so that I was here for my children.

My kids are a real motivation for me. Now that I am raising my granddaughter, I want to take care of myself to make sure I am here for her until she can be on her own.

What things are you doing to keep you healthy?

I try to watch what I eat and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. I keep myself involved in various activities, many of which are physical such as my volunteer role in the fire department. I like to fish and hunt and through this, challenge my body to keep up with others and carry what I can. I garden, too.

Family is also very important to me; we are a large and close family and look forward to getting together for family dinners. As I get older, I spend more time thinking about my life, what matters, and how I can live this to the fullest.

How does this healthy lifestyle make you feel?

I feel a sense of pride that I can still pull my own weight, even though I can’t carry as much as I could in my youth. My role model is my mother. She is 84 years old and she’s still going strong. When she was in her 60’s, I had a hard time keeping up to her. She would get up at dawn and preserve fruits and vegetables until late at night. She is slowing down now due to health concerns. She has macular degeneration but she still cuts fish, even though she does it now by feel.

When I’m out on the river or in the bush, I have time to reflect and focus on the land and the environment. I find that very spiritual and I get a sense of belonging when I’m out there. It’s like I can feel the presence of my ancestors who walked before me for thousands of years.

How do you think having a healthy lifestyle now will support your health in the future?

I think it will help me to live longer and to remain active. I couldn’t imagine not being active. I want to be just like my mom! When I was growing up, I used to tell my friends that I didn’t want to be like my mother. It’s ironic that no matter how hard I tried to do things differently, I end up like her! My mother is always there, a focus in my life.

What are you most looking forward to about being healthy as you age?

I look forward to being active and having a fulfilling life where I can do what I want and not be a burden to anyone. I want to remain independent as long as I can.

If you could share one message with others about your journey, what would that message be?

When you are younger, you don’t think about what it’s going to be like when you’re older. Choices one makes when they are young do matter in the future, that is the message I would like to share.

Every summer was like bootcamp for me. I was busy keeping up to my husband as we hunted or fished together. I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Parts of my body are starting to give me more problems now – like my knees and my elbows – from pushing myself too much then, packing heavy loads, and jumping off rocks.

My husband passed away five years ago from lung cancer. He was a smoker and a drinker. I chose not to so I could be there for my children. My current partner has diabetes and heart disease from not taking care earlier.

Everyone needs to start taking care of themselves and be more conscious of what’s around them. Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.

I never had an interest in gardening even when I had watched my mom do it. Yet, last year, we planted a garden and what came up was wonderful! I found it so relaxing; I could just get lost in it. I could sit in that garden, pulling weeds and not think of anything and before I knew it, four hours had passed! Work and other things in my life slipped away. We all need to do more of this. Life is too fast-paced. I’m going on a vacation soon. My partner and I are taking our motorhome and just going – no destination or timeline! Stress-free!

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health’s Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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An old guy thinks out loud

This is the first in a series of posts that we’ll be sharing about social connections and healthy aging. Over the next four weeks, we want to see how you, your family, and your community stay connected. Enter our photo contest for your chance at great weekly prizes and a grand prize valued at $250!

Man and woman talking

For Andrew, healthy aging is not just about moving away from illness and infirmity. Instead, it’s about moving toward a positive – and social connections are a key part of this!

How did I know I was old? Was it when the waitress asked me if I wanted the seniors menu? Was it when my granddaughter asked: “Was it really like that in the olden days, Papa?” Was it when I met my new doctor and thought (but didn’t say) “I have kids older than you …”? Hard to say, but likely I became aware of my aging status because of all three and others I don’t recall.

There’s a lot to gripe about as you get older. Things don’t work as well as they used to and a lot of conversations seem to turn to health concerns and to drugs … discussions about blood pressure and cholesterol lowering combinations, etc.

But there are so many wonderful things about aging, especially when you’re able to age healthily. You have more free time. You can speak your mind and share your stories (people will either respect what you say or cut you some slack because you’re old). You get seniors’ discounts. There’s more, but I’ll get to the point.

There are things we all need to do to age well. Chances are you’ve heard advice about diet and exercise, avoiding isolation, steering clear of tobacco and practicing moderation with alcohol. These are important, but let’s look at things differently. A lot of this advice is presented as ways to avoid getting sick, to avoid physical and mental deterioration. While true, there is a deeper perspective and a lot of it has to do with the benefits of social connectedness:

  • You can approach diet with an eye to nutrition, vitamins, calories and so forth. Add to that the social and emotional experience of preparation and sharing meals. Make mealtimes an opportunity for connection to others and for social interaction.
  • Exercise is a great way to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar but it also feels good. Finding exercise opportunities you enjoy is rewarding in itself. (For me, it’s riding a bike and swimming.) Right now is a good time to walk through the park and enjoy the fall colours. Walking with others is a chance to enjoy connections to others.
  • Having a drink in social situations is a part of life for a lot of us. Consider what makes socializing enjoyable and what is safe for you. Moderation increases the enjoyment of social events.

Sharing stories, playing games and finding opportunities to connect with others in social settings can be fun as well as keeping us mentally and emotionally sharp. Volunteer opportunities can be a way to meet a range of people, to stimulate your mind and to help others in their life journey.

Honoring ourselves by caring for our good health can be thought of as moving away from illness and infirmity or it can be a way to find more and deeper satisfaction in life. I find moving toward a positive more appealing than moving away from a negative.

How do you move towards the positive when it comes to health? How does your community support active, healthy, social living? Show us as part of our photo contest for your chance to share your community’s story and win!

Photo Contest

From Oct. 12 – Nov. 8, send in a photo showing how you stay connected and healthy for your chance to win great prizes (including a $250 grand prize) and help your community!

The challenge for Week 1 is: “Show us how you are active in your community!” Submit your photo at https://blog.northernhealth.ca/connect.

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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