Tag Archive for: seniors


Being a Life-Long Learner Can Help You Age Well

As we’ve mentioned before when discussing how to support optimal aging, the old cliché is true when we talk of cognition – “use it or lose it”.  Just as we need to exercise our bodies for physical health, we must do so for our brain to support cognitive health.  Learning something new is a great way to flex the muscles in your brain, and the great news is you don’t have to sit in a classroom to do so.  Take a look at the following from the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal which discusses how online learning can support you as you age.

McMaster Optimal Aging Portal:  How online learning can support optimal aging


Safe Ways for Seniors to Remain Active in the Winter

Winter has fully arrived in Ontario bringing with it freezing cold temperatures, icy surfaces and lots of snow!  If you don’t enjoy any of the these, that’s okay.  Though you may not be able to safely or comfortably enjoy the great outdoors there are still great ways to remain active during the Winter season.  The following care of the McMaster Option Aging Portal discusses some great ways for seniors to stay active without the dangers that can arise when trying to brave the elements.

McMaster Optimal Aging Portal:  Four ways to stay active this winter


Aging in Place: Making the “Stay or Go” Decision

This great resource provides some helpful advice to seniors that face the difficult decision to “stay or go” when it comes to housing as they age:

McMaster Optimal Aging Portal: Should I stay or should I go? Factors influencing older adults’ decisions about housing

The “Bottom Line” as outlined in this link is helpful, but I have added some other thoughts relating to the important “stay or go” decision:

The Bottom Line

Older adults’ loss of independence and declining capacity often lead to a decision to move to safer housing where care will be provided.

It is true that one of the most important factors in staying or going from the home includes the ability to get care.  Homecare from the public sector is not usually sufficient and private care is costly.  Friends, family and neighbors can only do so much.  But what if there was a way to delay the need for care by being proactive and addressing declining health actively by making changes to promote safety and independence BEFORE care needs become significant?  Occupational therapy can help people to be safer and more independent at home, and should be one of the first people you consult with if you are facing declining function.

The most important factors when making this decision are usually social and psychological considerations, not merely practical or economic considerations.

This is also true.  Isolation and reduced ability to self-motivate, engage and activate important self-care and home tasks greatly impact if someone can manage with or without supports.  Often the loss of a spouse or partner creates isolation and quickly forces people to have to adapt to a new way of living and managing alone.  This can often be the catalyst that determines if a home is too much to manage, or if a person can remain where they are.  Many seniors have the economic resources and family support to make changes to their home or living situation, but often they resist using these resources to manage their own needs.

Having a better understanding of the range of factors influencing older adults will help family members and professionals better support them in the decision-making process.

Also a great point.  However, I would argue that solving issues related to senior housing and living needs to be a customized approach.  “Understanding seniors” does not create a roadmap of how to help people through their unique challenges.  There is no cookie cutter solution and getting input and help at the actual home (i.e. not in an office or clinic) is the ideal approach to develop the most appropriate solutions.

Consider occupational therapy if this can help you or a loved one to stay home safely, independently and for as long as possible.

Learn more about factors to consider when looking to Age in Place in our post, Occupational Therapy and Aging in Place.


The A to Z of OT: I is For… Injury Prevention

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Benjamin Franklin

Did you know that in Canada falls are the leading cause of injury amoung older Canadians?  And that 20-30% of seniors experience one or more falls each year?  Falls are also the number one cause of both brain and spinal cord injury in seniors.  How can we put a stop to injuries caused by falls?  PREVENTION. Really, it is the best medicine.  Learn how Occupational Therapists help to prevent falls in the following episode from our OT-V video series.



October is Occupational Therapy Month and to celebrate we will be sharing a new series called the A to Z of OT.  In our attempts to further educate the public about what Occupational Therapists do we will be highlighting twenty-six of the awesome ways OTs provide Solutions for Living.  

We encourage you to follow along and to add to the discussion by highlighting other awesome things OTs help with for each corresponding letter!



How Can Occupational Therapists Best Support Older Adults as they Transition to Non-Drivers?

Guest Blogger Lauren Heinken, Occupational Therapist

It’s winter, and with the season comes decreased daylight and increased risk of weather-related adverse driving conditions. These factors can contribute to a higher incidence of motor vehicle collisions, and this may be particularly true for older adult drivers who are experiencing physical and cognitive health changes. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) reports that senior drivers with cognitive impairment/dementia have up to 4.7 times the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle collision. The MTO’s Senior Driver License Renewal Program operates in an effort to ensure that older adult drivers are screened for health changes that may impact their ability to drive. Occupational Therapists (OTs) may be involved in the process by administering the screening tools that can play a role in determining an individual’s fitness-to-drive; however, physicians and the MTO work together to ultimately decide whether an individual is able to maintain their license or not.

Many older adults see driving as imperative for maintaining their independence, especially if they have been lifelong drivers or are relatively unfamiliar with other forms of transportation. More physically demanding forms of transportation, walking to bus stops, or cycling, may no longer be viable alternatives for many. Outside of the main urban centres, Canada’s population is dispersed across great geographic distances; in more rural areas, public transportation services may be sparse if available at all. The distances individuals need to travel on a frequent basis to access services and participate in activities of their choosing are often great. As health professionals who focus on helping individuals find ways to engage in their chosen occupations, it fits that OTs should be involved in supporting older adults who have lost, or are at risk of losing, their ability to drive.  OTs can work with their clients to minimize the way in which losing one’s license influences overall quality of life and ability to engage in chosen occupations.

As with any major life change, planning for the loss of one’s drivers license well in advance can help to limit the impact of the change when it happens. After all options for ensuring and promoting someone’s ability to drive safely have been exhausted, the next responsible therapist-client step would be to initiate discussions related to transportation alternatives, regardless of whether or not this lifestyle change will be occurring in the near future. It is understandable that OTs may be reluctant to initiate these discussions as safe continuation of driving is often an emotionally charged subject and can lead to very difficult conversations.  Introducing the subject slowly and matching the content of the conversation to the client’s comfort level can help to limit any negative effects on the OT-client therapeutic relationship. Below is a proposed progression of an OTs involvement with a client who has lost, or is at risk of losing their ability to drive.





OTs should let the changing seasons serve as a reminder to consider initiating these discussions during client sessions. Although clients may be unreceptive and unwilling NOW to accept intervention aimed at preparing for this lifestyle change for LATER, a brief discussion may be enough to get them thinking about this important topic to help them adjust to the possibility when / if it arises.  Sometimes as therapists the ideas we introduce early are not accepted for months or years later, but our role includes having the patience to work with clients around their comfort level and to support change when they are ready to accept it.


Older Adults and Financial Stress

In a previous post, Solutions for Disability-Related Stress, we discussed how clients who are ill or who have been injured almost always deal with financial stress, and provided some solutions an Occupational Therapist can offer.

Other sources of financial stress can stem from aging.  Our senior population faces increased healthcare bills, long-term living expenses and more which can all create a great deal of anxiety.   Take a look at the following guide care of Reverse Mortgage Alert (not a mortgage broker) to learn more about Senior’s financial stress and to find some coping strategies.

Reverse Mortgage Alert:  Financial Stress Coping Guide for Seniors


Can Distraction be Helpful for the Mind?

Distraction is everywhere…









… Back to our post.  While it’s important to avoid life’s distractions and focus on the task at hand, a new study is showing that some distraction can benefit older adults with creativity and problem solving.  Learn more about the study and its findings in the following from CTV News.

CTV News:  Aging brain benefits from distraction: study


Aging in Place

Co-written with Claire Hurd

If you are an “empty nester” you may start to think how this phase in your life relates to your home and ongoing need for a larger space that previously accommodated a growing family.  Or, for some with kids out of the house, married and with their own families, they want to start spending time in a warmer climate, or want to move closer to their grandchildren.  Some will even consider moving in with their children to help raise the next generation, or because financially this is the most suitable option.  Whatever the reason, housing can be a massive contributor to function as we age, and there are several things to consider.

Universal design:
Universal design, or inclusive design, has the goal of maximizing usability for all, without sacrificing aesthetics when possible. You have probably seen universal design in many public spaces, but it can be incorporated into homes as well.  Examples of this may include lever door handles rather than knobs, raised outlets and lowered light switches, and large flat panel switches rather than small toggle versions. Many new homes are being designed to be “visitable,” with a basic level of universal design, including a smooth, ground level entrances without stairs, a wheelchair accessible main floor bathroom, wide doors, and wide hallways with room to maneuver a mobility device. When touring a potential new home, see if principles of universal design have been included. If you are renovating, consider including universal design elements in layout and fixtures.

Bungalows and condos are usually the most accessible options. Stair lifts are expensive, and the more landings or turns there are, the more they cost. It is also difficult to install them on curved staircases. Some side split designs may be conducive to elevator installation, but side or split-level homes are more difficult to accommodate in the event of mobility decline.

Bathrooms should have room to maneuver a mobility device. “Comfort height” toilets are a few centimetres taller than standard toilets, more like a standard chair, and make sitting down and standing up easier. A walk-in shower, or, better yet, a roll-in shower with no ledge to step over, will be accessible by family members and guests who may have temporary or more permanent mobility challenges.

If possible, have variable counter heights in the kitchen, to make food preparation easier for taller adults, shorter children, and individuals who need to sit. Recessed areas underneath countertops and appliances can accommodate mobility devices or chairs. Ensure that lighting is good in all task areas. Rounded corners prevent injuries. Casement windows are more readily opened than the traditional double-hung styles.

Gardening is a great activity for mind, body, and soul, but bending and kneeling on the ground can be difficult for many people. Raised flower beds and container gardens are a great solution.

Location, location, location:
Even if a house or apartment is otherwise perfect and accessible, if it’s in the middle of nowhere or in a neighbourhood that feels unsafe, it may not promote its occupants’ wellbeing. Proximity to services, such as grocery stores and public transportation, not only prevents social isolation, but may decrease potentially unwanted dependence on others.

Accessibility can benefit health, wellbeing and safety for anyone – regardless of physical or cognitive limitation. If you have more specific questions about how you can help yourself or others age comfortably in place, consider consulting with an occupational therapist.  Occupational therapists are trained to assess the person, their environment and the tasks they need to complete in the places they live and work.  So, before you make potentially costly mistakes in planning how you can better manage the “job of living”, give an OT a call.


For more information on Aging in Place and other helpful topics for Senior’s please visit our Senior’s Health page.