Healthy Living in the North

Therapeutic Recreation: a holistic approach to health

February is Therapeutic Recreation month, and although I don’t currently work in the field, I am very proud to have focused my education and first part of my career on this helping profession. Not many people are familiar with Therapeutic Recreation, also known as Recreation Therapy; it has been confused with such things as sports medicine and physiotherapy, but also has been shrugged off as simply any activity to combat boredom. Let me set the record straight on that, because Recreation Therapists are working non-stop to provide programs that are purposeful and goal-oriented down to an individual level.

Therapeutic Recreation is defined as “a health care profession that utilizes a therapeutic process, involving leisure, recreation and play as a primary tool for each individual to achieve their highest level of independence and quality of life” (CTRA, 2017).

seniors playing floor curling.

Being physically active in a group setting and cheering others on helps form social connections and bolster self-esteem.

Recreation Therapists can be found in a variety of settings, including:

  • Assisted living/seniors’ housing
  • Long term care
  • Children’s hospitals
  • Mental health services
  • Rehabilitation centres
  • Day centres
  • Private practice
  • …and many more.

One of the things that (in my mind) makes therapeutic recreation a unique and special field is its truly holistic approach to health. While many health care professions tend to be very targeted to one aspect of a patient’s health, recreation therapy works to improve the health of the person as a whole; they may focus on physical needs, but they may pay just as much attention to the emotional, cognitive, social, and/or spiritual needs that make up a person’s overall quality of life.

There are many benefits related to taking part in physical programming. Many chronic disease symptoms can be avoided, delayed, or better managed through physical activity. Working on maintaining or improving core strength and balance can help reduce the risk of falls. It’s also important to note that the benefits of participating in a physical program extend beyond the obvious goal of maintaining or increasing physical function. Participants may realize they’re gaining social connections as a result of taking part in physical programming as part of a group; they will likely experience a mood boost following participation; realizing they are capable of more than they were previously (or had expected to be) can also do much to bolster confidence and self-esteem.

I was able to catch up with a local Recreation Therapist, Jaymee Webster, to get her perspective on the benefits of therapeutic recreation programming in her work settings of inpatient rehabilitation unit and outpatient geriatric rehabilitation day program.

“Often when individuals are engaged in all aspects of the rehabilitation process they have better outcomes. Through recreation and physical activity our patients have the opportunity to see their progress from other therapies translate to meaningful engagement. For example, an individual working on regaining strength in the upper extremities feels a sense of accomplishment when they are able to score points in a game of floor curling.”

If you know or work with a Recreation Therapist or team providing therapeutic recreation programs, take a moment this month to watch them at work. Their creativity and passion for working to improve the lives of others at an individual level are truly inspiring.

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.


Learning from Nana: Making small changes to prevent falls and stay independent

Old photograph of a woman.

Amy’s Nana taught her some valuable lessons on healthy aging and staying independent.

At 90 years old, my Nana still splashed her face 10 times each morning with cold water – a tip she once read in a fashion magazine from celebrity Marilyn Monroe to keep the skin free of wrinkles. After this morning splash, Nana would dress and prepare to leave the retirement home for ice cream with her boyfriend (the only eligible bachelor in the facility who still held a valid driver’s licence).

While the story is endearing, it also shares a valuable lesson about aging: none of us ever believe we really do age. We may believe we gain wisdom or earn some much-needed free time through retirement, but it is hard for any of us to imagine the physical changes to our body that lead to a loss of independence. Even at 90, Nana did not compromise her lifestyle. She and the family just found ways to manage some of the risks that accompany aging.

Change is hard at any age so it is important to plan for it.

This year, BC Seniors Falls Prevention Awareness Week is November 7-13. Falls pose the greatest risk of injury and hospitalization to adults over age 65. I want everyone to know there are things you can do to reduce the risk and maintain your independence.

FindingBalanceBC has 4 protective factors that can reduce the risk of falls:

#1: Exercise

  • The more you move, the more your body can support changes in balance.

#2: Annual vision testing

  • Yearly vision testing is covered by MSP for those people over age 65.

#3: Home safety evaluation

  • Keeping your independence is often a matter of making small changes at home. Think handrails, grab bars, walking aids, better lighting, etc.

#4: Medication review

  • Be sure to keep a current list of all medications you take to share with your health care providers.

We all have a role to play when it comes to the safety of our loved ones. When Nana’s boyfriend was no longer able to drive, for example, she just called us to take the two of them for ice cream! Even children can help by taking a safety superhero challenge!

What’s the saying? “It is not the years in our lives, but the life in our years that matter” (Abraham Lincoln)

Plan to make the small changes needed to stay injury free and independent for the longest possible time!

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.


Preventing falls: Seniors’ Fall Prevention Awareness Week

City street in the winter

With winter slipperiness comes an increased risk of falling. Take steps to prevent falls this winter!

It’s that time of year again! Winter is creeping its way around the corner. As I walked outside this morning, I could see my breath in the cool, crisp air as I exhaled. The grass was covered in sparkly frost that crinkled and crunched as I did my morning chores. I love the fresh fall and winter mornings when there is no wind and everything is glistening. It is really quite pretty – almost surreal.

Winter is my favorite time of year, so the first few cool fall mornings always make the butterflies come alive in my stomach as I anticipate the fluffy white stuff! As I walk about carefully scraping my truck windows, buckling up, and driving to work, however, I am quickly reminded that with all the beauty in this winter wonderland, things become very slippery! Roads, walkways, stairs, and other surfaces become a little slicker and we have to be just a little more careful.

With winter slipperiness comes an increased risk of falling. On a few occasions, I’ve definitely found myself on the ground, looking up at the clouds before I even had a chance to catch myself! Does anyone else find it challenging to stay safely on your feet?

This task becomes even harder as we age. One in three people aged 65 years and older fall every year, which can lead to an older adult getting hurt so badly that they lose their ability to live independently. So, in the spirit of Seniors’ Fall Prevention Awareness Week (November 3-9, 2014), take the time to think about how you can prevent falls for yourself and those you love with these tips:

  • Be physically active in order to strengthen muscles. Healthy Families BC has some great examples of how to stay active as you age.
  • Get your eyes checked to detect vision problems.
  • Make a list of all of your medications and supplements and ask your pharmacist to review them, looking for combinations that cause dizziness or impaired judgement.
  • Don’t wear loose-fitting slippers or shoes with worn-out tread since bad footwear can lead to slips, trips, and falls.
  • Don’t let the fear of falling stop you from being active. If you’ve fallen before, you may be afraid of falling again. But physical activity helps keep you strong, which can prevent future falls and fractures.
  • Drink enough water. Dehydration puts you at higher risk for falling.
  • Remove the clutter. Things on the floor can cause you to trip or stumble.
  • Install grab bars in your bathroom to help with getting in and out of the tub. Grab bars can look stylish, too – get some in white or chrome.
  • Get some new lighting. Dark corners can limit visibility and lead to a fall. As a bonus, most new lighting fixtures use very little electricity.
  • Learn more about fall-proofing your home from HealthLinkBC.

Finally, if you are an older adult or have an aging loved one, check out the following resources from SeniorsBC:

Shellie O'Brien

About Shellie O'Brien

Shellie grew up in rural Newfoundland and moved to B.C. in 2003. After graduating from the nursing program at Thompson Rivers University in 2007 she moved to Prince George to start her career. She has a passion for population and public health and is the Regional Lead for Sexual and Reproductive Health. After falling in love with the north she purchased a rural property and began to build her hobby farm and family. She enjoys the outdoors, animals, recreational dogsledding, reading, and healthy living. When not at work, she can be found happily doing something outside on her farm with her family.


Investing in a healthy future

Christine walks dog.

After knee surgery, Christine enjoys walking her dog with her grandchildren.

I’ve written before about the struggles of giving up running and then walking due to developing a knee issue, which progressed enough while I waited for surgery that I lost more and more mobility. As this happened, and I had to fight harder to stay fit, I began to feel like I was losing my independence.

My knee issue was the result of an old running injury, where I had torn my cartilage without realizing it. I came from a ‘stiff upper lip’ kind of family, and unfortunately, I didn’t pay enough attention to act preventively when the injury happened. Because I did not address the torn cartilage before it deteriorated beyond repair, I had to stop running. The knee would never be strong enough to continue running without further damage. Then, a few years later, I lost my next favourite form of exercise: walking. Shortly after that, I lost biking. I turned to exercise in deep water, which helped me manage the increasing pain, but moving continued to become more of a challenge. Family, friends and colleagues tried to bolster my spirits, but all I could do was watch everyone as they easily moved through their days, while I waited.

Depression often accompanies deteriorating health conditions, becoming a significant barrier to staying active, fit and healthy. It often felt like I was losing more than I was gaining but I did try to focus on staying as active as I could. In my head, I knew how important exercise and movement was, not only to physical health, but to mental health and well-being as well.

 This summer I was finally called for surgery. I set two goals:

  1. To walk my dog again.
  2. To walk to the park with my grandchildren.

In the end, the surgery was well worth the wait. I surprised everyone around me, especially myself, when I accomplished both goals within two months of the surgery. I felt like I had my life back!

I still have recovery ahead of me, but it’s important to me to focus on the investment in future health and well-being, as well as to be a role model to those I care about. I have set a new goal for myself: right now, my knee doesn’t bend enough to ride properly and safely, but with practice, perseverance and persistent exercise, I believe I will ride my bike again and I am aiming for Bike to Work Week at the end of May 2014. The surgeon thinks it’s a great idea and gave me suggestions for how to get there. I am engaged and invested in my future, health and well-being.

But the best reward of all is being able to walk to the park and back with both my dog and my grandkids. Spending time with them by ensuring they have time to build their bodies through walking and play means we are also investing in their future, together.

Whether you’re one or one-hundred, invest in your future by physically moving throughout your day to build your own health, wellness and strength. Every move counts and it is never too late to be more active.

For information on health at and all ages, as well as seniors’ falls prevention, please visit Healthy Families BC. There, you’ll find ideas for how to build your health and wellness, invest in the future of health where you live, work, learn and play.

Christine Glennie-Visser

About Christine Glennie-Visser

Christine is the regional coordinator for the HEAL (Healthy Eating, Active Living) Network in northern B.C. Christine loves to share good healthy local food with family, friends and co-workers and is passionate about making the healthy choice the easier choice for everyone. Although she is currently limited in her physical activity choices for medical reasons, she has become creative at fitting in activity and spends many happy hours deep water running and using gentle resistance training and stretching to maintain muscle strength. Christine can often be found in her kitchen, developing or testing recipes, and conspiring with her six grandchildren to encourage their parents to eat more fruits and vegetables! (Christine no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)


Seniors Falls: A Proactive Approach

Risk of "near falls."

Half of seniors have had “near falls.”

I was pleased to recently get the opportunity to sit and have tea with Lola Dawn Fennell, Manager of the Prince George Council of Seniors (PGCOS) at the Seniors Resource Centre, to chat about a very important topic: seniors’ falls prevention. The Council was formed in 1990 by a group of local seniors who believed in the social benefits of group advocacy. PGCOS is committed to encouraging seniors to becoming more proactive about their own health and wellness and advocates for seniors to consider lifestyle changes before illness or accidents occur.

During our chat, I learned a lot more about the importance of prevention. Lola told me: “From a personal note, I am becoming more and more aware of my feet as I get older – where they are, what they are doing. I can’t take my footing for granted anymore. In the last six years I’ve had a couple of falls with one resulting in a broken arm. I am becoming more aware that falls are a serious issue. Hip fractures are devastating to seniors. Both my parents fell and broke hips when they were in their 80s and they never regained their mobility. I don’t want to fall and break a hip.”

She also emphasized that seniors and their families need to be aware of hazards before a fall happens. Being proactive and changing your actions is key! In the Falls Prevention Workshops PGCOS runs, Lola always asks the group about the number of “near falls” they have had in the last year and the response is always the same: about 50% of the group has had one or more. Also, the older the senior, the more they have had one.

Lola told me, “When you are young, you just walk. The older you get, the more aware you become of your feet. Feet are on my mind lately.”

Lola wants seniors to take the time to consider some facts around falls:

1)      Falls are the leading cause of injuries to seniors – everyone needs to be aware of the seriousness of this.

2)      The majority of falls happen to seniors at home, during normal daily activities. 

3)      50% of residential care admissions are related to falls.

4)      Beware of the hazards:

  • Indoors: rugs, slippery surfaces, pets underfoot.
  • Outdoors: uneven sidewalks, un-shoveled steps and walkways.
  • Our behaviors: being in a hurry and not paying attention, mixing medications with alcohol, not eating well, dehydration.

You can find excellent resources to keep seniors free from slips, trips and broken hips on Northern Health’s Injury Prevention webpage.  

For more information on free Wellness Promotion Workshops, including falls prevention, contact PGCOS at 250-564-5888.

Join us for great prizes and great fun by submitting photos portraying healthy, active living in Northern BC free from falls!  Visit for all the challenge details!

Loraina Stephen

About Loraina Stephen

Loraina is a population health dietitian working in a regional lead role for external food policy, which supports initiatives to develop healthy eating, community food security and food policy for the north. Loraina was born and raised in the north, and has a busy lifestyle. Having grown up enjoying food grown from family gardens, hunting, and gathering, and enjoying northern outdoor activities, she draws on those experiences to keep traditions strong for her family, in her work and at play. (Loraina no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)


Seniors’ falls prevention week: write your own story

Denise's family and friends.

Denise’s family and friends from the old neighborhood.

I grew up in a Prince George neighborhood with a wonderful blend of multi-generation Canadian families and first generation families from Italy, Yugoslavia, Sweden, Denmark and Greece. They all brought a rich diversity of languages, home decorating flare, meals that could humble any international food festival, and crazy MacGyver-like creativity that they applied to both everyday tasks and complex problems. Often, they didn’t have their families close by. Looking back, I was so fortunate to spend my youth surrounded by these families who worked very hard to put down roots in their new communities and build a sense of belonging with their neighbors. Those families stayed in that neighborhood over the years, and if they did move, they kept in touch with the neighbors that had become dear friends.

A few (okay, many) years have gone by now and those men and women who had such fascinating life stories are aging. These folks have always been so independent – maybe it was always their nature – their fierce independence that was built over time, out of necessity. Whatever the background, they are now in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond in years. They still want to live their life, writing their own story as much as any of us can. Staying connected and living in their community while maintaining their independence in their senior years is critical to their well-being.

This week, our Injury Prevention: Falls Across the Ages awareness campaign is shining light on the issue of seniors’ falls. We are encouraging seniors and anyone who cares about the seniors in their lives to learn about maintaining independence and preventing a fall. There are some body changes that come with aging, but there are also many choices we can make to keep ourselves well, strong and safely on our feet as we go about living and writing our life stories. Some choices are easy to make; others take a bit more commitment. All are proven steps, helping to prevent slips, trips and broken hips.

1.   Be active

  • Poor balance and weak muscles are not a normal part of aging, but do increase your risk of falling.
  • Exercise for strength, balance and coordination. You’ll feel great.

2.   Take your time

  • Rushing through everyday activities can contribute to falls.
  • Slow down, do one thing at a time, look where you are going and be sure you have your balance before you start walking.

3.   Make your home safe

  • Remove things that you might trip over such as electrical cords, throw rugs, shoes and books.
  • Use sturdy handrails, bathroom grab bars, non-slip bath or shower mats and well-fitted shoes.
  • Light your way inside and outside your home. Use night-lights at night.

4.   Have regular check-ups

  • Medication use can increase your chance of falling, so have your doctor or pharmacist review all the medication you take.
  • Have your vision and blood pressure checked regularly.

Join this week’s challenge. Send us pictures of you, your family, friends and neighbors staying active, healthy and connected in your community. Show us that you have considered falls prevention!

For more information, links and resources please visit the Preventing Seniors’ Falls webpage.

Get involved and show us how you are staying healthy, active and falls-free.

Denise Foucher

About Denise Foucher

Denise is an injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about working towards health and wellness for everyone in Northern B.C. When not at work, Denise can be found out at the lake, walking her dog, planning her next travel adventure, or snuggled in a cozy chair with a good book.


A Focus on injury prevention

Preventing seniors' fallsHave you ever watched America’s Funniest Videos? Without fail, I find myself giggling or laughing out loud at the montage of videos showing people falling, tripping, tumbling and crashing off their bikes, over their dogs, off their decks, etc. I don’t want to be that person who laughs at other people’s misfortunes, but sitting on my sofa in the comfort of my home, it all seems so harmless and comical.

Now I ask you, have you ever had the chance to sit and listen to a parent describe the gut-wrenching screams of their child who broke a bone or sustained a head injury from a fall? Have you ever chatted with a senior when they describe the shock and pain of falling and breaking their hip, having to give up the comfort of living in their home in their neighborhood because they could not regain their previous level of independence? What do you think about all the professional athletes who have died, taken their own life, or never again played at the same level as a result of a concussion? Do you know someone who has had to change their life, either for a weekend, season or long-term because of the painful, confusing and unpredictable symptoms after suffering a concussion? Suddenly, the risk of serious injury from a fall is not at all harmless or in the least bit comical. Everyone knows someone who has had their life changed as a result of a fall.

While I’m shining a light on the serious risk of injury that accompanies a fall, let me challenge your assumptions about injuries in general. Did you know that most injuries are preventable? Injuries are the fifth leading cause of death in Canada and BC; they are the third leading cause of death in northern BC. We have higher rates of injury from motor vehicle crashes, suicides and falls than our provincial counterparts, and like the rest of the province and country, we have populations who are more vulnerable to the cost, pain, disability and tragedy of injury, such as seniors, children and youth, men and Aboriginal peoples.

Do injuries have to be a part of life? No. Can we still live full, fun, active, healthy lives while managing the serious risks of fall-related injuries?  Yes, we can! As challenges us, have a word with yourself.

Show us how for a chance to win prizes!

Do you live your life actively and fully while managing your risk for injury? Show us. Send in your pictures, stories, videos, and artwork of how to bring awareness to preventing injuries and you’ll have a chance to win weekly prizes. Visit our contest page for full details!

Join us in weekly contests this month to raise awareness about seniors’ falls prevention, childhood falls prevention, and concussion awareness. And for more information about preventing seniors’ falls, preventing childhood falls and concussion awareness and management, visit our Injury Prevention website.

Denise Foucher

About Denise Foucher

Denise is an injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about working towards health and wellness for everyone in Northern B.C. When not at work, Denise can be found out at the lake, walking her dog, planning her next travel adventure, or snuggled in a cozy chair with a good book.