Healthy Living in the North

Falling is not a “right of passage”; Falls Prevention Awareness Week

I’m approaching my 40th birthday. From where I stand now it seems impossible to me, that as kids we celebrated my parents 40th birthdays with black balloons, a cane, candy jellybean “pill” bottles, and a larger than life sign signifying “Over the Hill”.

Like these 40th birthday traditions, our culture embraces some aspects of aging that don’t make any sense. Take senior’s falls as an example, somehow as a society we accept that the majority of people experience a fall at some point as they age. Did you know that, for all age ranges, falling is a lead cause for injuries requiring hospitalization? No matter what age, we must all remember, falls are preventable!

November 6-12, 2017, marks the Finding Balance BC Falls Prevention Awareness Week. Falling, tripping, or slipping happens now and then to all of us, but falling with risk of serious injury does not have to be a normal part of aging.

seniors, falls prevention

Keeping active now helps prevent future falls.

What can you do?

  • Get up and go.
    • Keep your body moving and active. Focus on strong muscles and good balance. Strength and balance exercises are key to reducing the risk of falling.
  • Have your eyes checked.
    • Visiting an optometrist once a year can reduce your risk of falling.
  • Review your medications.
    • Bring everything you take (both prescription and non-prescription) to your pharmacy or doctor for a review.
  • Make small changes to your home.
    • Simple hazards are sometimes overlooked and often, easily fixed.
    • Install handrails and guardrails where needed.
    • Add lighting in hallways and nightlights in bathrooms and bedrooms.
    • Secure or remove area rugs so they don’t become tripping hazard in your home.
    • Salt and sand walkways in winter months.

With November and my birthday approaching, let’s challenge the social norms -I refuse to blow up a single black balloon! Falling is not a “right of passage”, and making small changes to our lifestyle and surroundings is a smart investment to our health and well-being, no matter what age.

Join Northern Health and participate in the BC Finding Balance Falls Prevention Week. Visit the Finding Balance BC website and talk to your doctor if you have had a slip, trip, or fall in the last year.

Amy Da Costa

About Amy Da Costa

Amy Da Costa has worked in Public Health for 12 years. She recently joined the Population Health team as a part-time Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention. Amy lives in Kitimat with her husband and two children. They like to camp, swim, and cook as a family.


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.


“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.)


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


  • 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


  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.


Invest in healthy aging – new resource!

Cover of healthy aging brochureOver the last month, you’ve shared some amazing stories and photos showing how you invest in your health.

Now, we’ve got a new resource to share with you! If you want information about healthy aging and tips on how to take part in activities that support healthy aging, download “Invest in Healthy Aging“.

What’s one thing that you’ll do over the next week to invest in your body, mind, and relationships?

If you’d like print copies of this brochure, contact us!

And be sure to check out all of the healthy aging stories we shared over the last month.

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.)


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.