Finding the Balance – Working Against Burnout

As a spouse, caregiving can become incredibly stressful. As you watch your relationship with your wife change from spouse to caregiver, emotions like love and compassion may begin to be shadowed by anger, resentment, guilt, and exhaustion. It is no walk in the park to care for your spouse who has succumbed to the symptoms of dementia.

There are a lot of instances when a spouse will take on all, and I mean all, of the responsibility to care for your loved one. They were responsible for the finances and bills, but are now also responsible for groceries, laundry, and organizing appointments. At first, you may gain a sense of appreciation for your loved one, realizing how much work these tasks actually required. But over time, you may feel it is unfair that what was once a two-person job, now completely falls to you. Now, there’s no time for you to go out with your buddies, to go to the club and hang out with the boys over a whiskey and cigar. There’s no time to go for your daily walks in the woods that always gave you so much peace and relaxation. The days of going to the gym and movies are gone. All your time is spent caring, worrying, and organizing two lives so completely that all of a sudden, you want to scream, cry, and just leave it all behind.


But you don’t. You stay, and you help. But you can’t do it for much longer. So what do you do now? You couldn’t live with yourself if you just left. Not after an entire life with this person who has given you so much too.

So what are your options?

There are actually a whole bunch of resources out there to support you and your loved one. Using these resources help so that you don’t get burned out and your loved one gets the best possible care and support they need. It’s a win-win! So, let’s look at what’s out there.

First, you have volunteers. The easiest way to get access to a volunteer is through the Alzheimer’s Society chapter nearest you. These volunteers can have a range of purposes but the most common is companionship. Companionship is when a volunteer comes to your home, and spends time with your loved one. Often, they come for 2hrs at a time, once per week. This can vary from person-to-person and from situation-to-situation. During the 2-hour affair, your loved one and their companion will engage in different activities such as cooking or baking, gardening, knitting, going through photo albums, doing crosswords, or just chatting away. Now during this time, you can either stay with your loved one and their companion, you can go off in your home and busy yourself with other things, or you can leave to run errands or go catch a cup of tea with a friend. Usually in these situations, you’ll stay home for the first visit or so until you’ve gained trust in your companion, and then you’ll feel more freedom to go and enjoy your time free of caregiving.

Another great way to find some free time for yourself is through day programs. Some day programs are free, some are a pay-per-service, and others require a membership. Day programs can range from 1-2 hour sessions all the way to full days (9am-5pm). You can find day programs through the VON, the Alzheimer’s Society, LumaCare, and many others.

There is also a service called Respite Care. This is where your loved one goes to a facility for a couple of days to a month or so, and is cared for there. This type of service allows you to gain some much needed rest and relaxation. You are free to go on vacation, go visit relatives and friends, go to the spa, go to that hockey game with the boys. Pretty much do anything you want. There are many retirement homes that offer respite care and can be found in this list. Not all retirement homes offer this service.

Another common stressor when caring for someone with dementia is groceries and meal preparation. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered here too. Services like Meals on Wheels, or Heart To Home Meals, and Shine At Home all deliver nutritious meals to your home. No need for grocery shopping, cooking, or dishes. Meals on WheelsEnjoy cooking? Then why not try grocery delivery? Many grocery stores now offer pickup and delivery. Loblaws, Metro, and Walmart offer free grocery pickup after you order online. And companies like Anytime Grocery offer grocery delivery.

We’re not done yet. What about homemaking? Do you hate the days when you have to clean the toilet? Do laundry? or vacuum? Again, there’s a service for that. We understand that in a partnership, one person doesn’t do everything. Both spouses worked as a team to accomplish the daily doings of life. But when one gets sick and can’t contribute as much anymore, you can be sure that there is a service out there to help you out. Companies like Retire-At-Home and Bayshore offer these types of services.

Most importantly, don’t do it alone. We all need help, whether it’s as simple as screwing in a light bulb, someone to vent to, or as complex as getting help with personal care like going to the bathroom or getting dressed. We all need help and there is certainly no shame in that.

One of the best things you can do for your loved one is to take care of yourself. If you’re not in good shape, then you won’t be able to support your loved one. It’s like the concept on a plane: put your own oxygen mask on first, then help others with theirs. If you don’t put your mask on first, you’ll only be able to help a handful of people before you collapse. But if you put yours on first, you can go around the entire plane and help everyone with theirs.


Worried that you’re getting Alzheimer’s Disease?

A lot of people start paying more and more attention to their memory blips as they get older and may chalk it up to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Most people don’t remember when they were 20 years old and continually forgetting what they went upstairs for or where they dropped their purse off when they got in the house. All of a sudden, in your 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s, the fear of getting dementia sits in the back of your mind hanging over any episode of forgetting a word, forgetting to call your sister, or forgetting what you just read in the paper. It is important not to freak out just yet! Just as when you were younger, there are a lot of reasons that our memory slips from situation to situation.

Scared brain

Interest is a factor that affects our ability to remember things. Just think about when you were younger and sitting in school listening to a lecture you just couldn’t care less about. Comparatively to a subject you were interested in, which lecture was easier to remember? The subject you were interested in. Another factor that affects memory is focus. When you are distracted by something else whether it’s something that is going on in the same room or something that happened at home, if you’re thinking about something else, it’s much harder to remember the things that are happening right in front of you. And then there is stress. Big. Bad. Stress. If you are stressing over your memory, you’re likely to forget more than if you just relaxed. Stress does a lot of bad things to our bodies, and its effects on memory are just one of them.

Now don’t get me wrong, your general memory and ability to remember different things does naturally decline as you age. This is completely normal. But the only time for concern is when these memory blips start to affect your ability to function in everyday life. Now it is time to visit your doctor.

There are a couple of changes that may indicate you are experiencing abnormal cognitive and memory changes. When you start to notice these, it is time to go see your doctor. These are the 7 Changes of Cognition:

  1. Changes in memory that affect day-to-day activities like losing your wallet and putting your purse in the microwave
  2. Changes in language abilities, often forgetting words and using words that don’t work in a sentence
  3. Changes in the ability to make sound judgement like wearing the proper clothes for the weather
  4.  Changes in mood, behaviour, and personality like going from easy-going to very uptight and hot tempered or from engaging in activities to becoming more recluse
  5. Changes in the ability to perform familiar tasks like preparing your signature dish
  6. Changes in orientation like not knowing where you are or what time, month or year it is
  7. Changes in abstract thinking like understanding complex concepts and using and understanding metaphors

If you do start to experience the 7 Changes of Cognition, you should go see your doctor.




Am I Selfish?

By Eleanor Pineau

Family caregivers of someone with dementia have a tough job. These Heroes are essentially on-duty 24/7. They direct not only their own lives, but the life of the person with dementia…to an extent. They are in-charge of personal care (i.e., bathing, toileting, grooming, etc.), meals, socialization, finances, housing – anything that goes into “LIFE,” falls on the family caregiver.

Family caregivers often become overwhelmed and stressed out. And we all know what stress can do to us! Stress breakscaregiver us down from the inside out; it’s with us almost 100% of the time; it makes us eat; it makes us stop eating; it makes us sleep non-stop; it makes us stop sleeping; it makes us gain weight; it makes us get physically sick. Stress can be traced to the root of almost all physical ailments, and absolutely worsens any physical or psychological illness.

After all family caregivers do, I still get asked: “Am I selfish?”

Am I selfish if:

  • I want to take a bath?
  • I want to go to the gym?
  • I want to go on a vacation?
  • I want to see my friends?
  • I don’t want to do it anymore?

These questions, among others, are completely normal. So what’s the answer?

You. Are. Not. Selfish.

It’s completely normal to want to take a bath, go to the gym, go on vacation, see your friends, and take a step back from caregiving. It’s also completely normal and even HEALTHY to DO those things! Do th

If you find fulfillment, or a sense of pride, duty or accomplishment in caregiving, then do it. But know that you also need to take care of yourself. Helping someone in their time of need is one of the greatest gifts yo
u can give that person, AND yourself. But you shouldn’t go into caregiving every day with dread or feeling dispirited. So how do you stop or prevent feeling this way?

Take. Care. Of. Yourself.

I know it’s easier said than done, but go take a bath, go to the gym, go on vacation, see your friends, and take a step back from caregiving.

There are many community resources that can help you along the Dementia Journey. Meal delivery services can save you time so you have more time for yourself. Respite care is great because you can be assured your loved one is safe and well-taken care of while you can go see friends, go to the gym, or go on that trip you’ve been longing for.

It is incredibly important to take care of yourself so that you can continue to care for your loved one, and so that you don’t feel your life is on hold. Your life is NOT on hold. You are growing, developing, learning, and changing every day. Though you may not feel it all the time, you are tackling and overcoming one of life’s greatest challenges. You Are Thriving. Stay strong and continue to thrive by balancing caregiving and self-care.

Because we NEED YOU.

Please share in the comments your tips and tricks for making the Dementia Journey a little easier so you can put time into self-care 🙂

What is Cognition?

By Eleanor Pineau


Often when I speak about my research, people ask me what cognition is. So what is it? What does it mean to have cognitive decline and how does it relate to dementia?


Question 1: What is cognition?

Answer: Cognition is an umbrella term used to describe all your mental processes. Cognition is made up of many factors including memory, attention, language, visuospatial abilities. Each of these factors is composed of many smaller factors. For example, memory is made up of long-term memory, short-term memory, episodic memory, semantic memory, and working memory.

Types of Memory graphic.png

What’s important for you to know is that cognition, and the processes that make it up, allow you to:

  • Experience a sensation, a perception, a notion, or have an intuition.
  • Make the decision to go to work in the morning, or pick out the clothes you are going to wear.
  • Speak and understand speech.
  • Remember where you left your keys, your mother’s name, and what your son looks like.
  • Pay attention to the road when you’re driving, or when you are having a conversation with someone.
  • Understand that a tree is a tree, and a pen is a pen.

Cognition allows you to understand and operate in the environment around you.


Question 2: What does it mean to have cognitive decline?

Answer: Cognitive decline means that a person has difficulties with ANY one or combination of the factors that make up cognition (i.e., memory, attention, language, visuospatial abilities).

What you need to know is that cognitive decline is a NORMAL part of aging. In fact, we cognitive decline starts in our 30s and 40s! Isn’t that crazy! But it’s ok because the declines are so minor that they don’t affect our daily lives.


Question 3: But isn’t cognitive decline = dementia?

Answer: Dementia is NOT forgetting where you put your keys…EVERYONE does that! It is completely normal. What dementia IS, is cognitive decline that is severe enough to impact one’s ability to complete essential daily activities such as eating, dressing, going to the bathroom, bathing, and moving around the environment.

So then what does dementia look like?

Dementia looks different in every single person that has it. Some people’s first symptoms are memory impairment. Others experience behaviour or personality changes first, while others experience problems in judgement or decisions.

Memory impairment in someone with dementia looks like this: it’s someone who forgets where they are, what they are doing, or the names and faces of their family members.

Someone else with dementia might have a personality change; so once they usually kept to themselves, and now they are more bold and interactive.

Another person with dementia might have problems with judgement and this might be expressed in giving too much money to a charity – like all their savings… eek!

As dementia progresses and affects more parts of the brain, more symptoms will appear and symptoms usually worsen. All these symptoms of dementia are due to a decline in cognition; damage to the brain.



Cognition is your brain – it’s all the processes that work to allow you to experience and interact with the world around you. Cognitive decline is a normal part of aging and is any decline in the ability to interact with the world. Cognitive decline may progress to Dementia. Dementia looks different in every person and all symptoms are due to a decline in cognition, damage to the brain.



Steps to Remember your Daughter

By Eleanor Pineau

We all know: Exercise is good for you. Go for a run. Take the Stairs. Lift some weights. Walk or bike, don’t drive.

But how important is exercise really? And how important is exercise to someone that has dementia?

If there was a magical pill for all of our aches and pains, it would be exercise. The number of things exercise prevents AND treats is, well, EVERYTHING. High blood pressure? Go exercise. Depressed? Go exercise. In pain? Go exercise. Afraid of getting dementia? Go. Exercise. Name a condition or symptom, and exercise is bound to have a positive impact on it.

A group of elderly people exercising together on balance balls

Exercise in older populations is incredibly important to maintain independence, dignity, and quality of life. It is also the most important intervention to prevent falls. This is extremely important as falls is a predictor of loss of independence and death. These factors remain applicable to persons with dementia.

People often think that once someone is diagnosed with dementia, that all is lost, and exercise is not needed. Because, well, “they’re not all there anymore.” Right?


Persons with dementia need to exercise. Oftentimes, these people are also quite capable of physical activity. They need to exercise in order to prevent falling, control other comorbidities/diseases like heart failure, osteoporosis, arthritis, high cholesterol levels, and so forth. They also need exercise in order to prevent depression, delirium, and to help them reduce any pain.

Another thing exercise helps with is drugs. Unfortunately, many people with a cognitive impairment like dementia, take multiple drugs. Taking too many drugs is very dangerous, especially in someone with dementia. Side effects or interactions between drugs are very likely, and these can cause heart attacks, accelerated cognitive decline, and even death. Exercise helps to fix the reason they are on a drug. For example, exercise helps with cholesterol levels so now they don’t need to be on that cholesterol medication.

Many people with dementia are put on anti-psychotics because they have sedative properties. These sedatives are used to sedate the person with dementia so that they no longer yell, wander, or show physical aggression – these are “problem/responsive behaviours” aka “personal expressions.” These drugs actually cause greater cognitive decline, and physical decline – so independence is reduced. In lieu to these drugs, we should be prescribing an exercise regime. Oftentimes, the reason why someone with dementia is yelling, wandering, or being physically aggressive, is because they are in pain, they’re agitated, they’re bored, or they need some physical stimulation. Well you guessed it, exercise cures these!


A lot of people look for a cure or for something that will slow the progression of dementia. And you guessed it again. So far, the only thing that holds promise to prevent or slow the progression of dementia is exercise! Exercising increases blood flow to the brain which increases nourishment and waste removal. It also enhances neurogenesis, or neuron growth! (So in dementia, neurons are constantly being destroyed, and this is why we see memory loss, poor judgement, poor communication, etc. But exercise stimulates the growth of neurons, and keeps neurons healthy which prevents their destruction!) So in essence, exercise slows the rate of dementia, which keeps the person happy and healthy for longer! They can remember more things throughout the day, they have better judgement, and they can find the words they’re looking for!


But where to start? You have a couple of options:

  1. Exercise at home on your own
  2. Attend a fitness class in the community
  3. Access personal training


  1. Exercising at home on your own

If you and your loved one prefer to exercise at home without any expert advice, you need to take into consideration a couple of key things. First, make sure that your loved one with dementia is wearing comfortable, proper-fitting shoes. This will reduce the risk of falling. Second, make sure your workout space is clear of debris and you’re in a well-lit room. Again, these will reduce the risk of falling. Third, make sure you use proper equipment and safety measures. For example, you should consult a personal trainer or physiotherapist to ensure that you aren’t doing any movements that are contraindicated by a medical condition. If you have osteoporosis, you should not be doing any twisting motions with your back. Consulting a personal trainer or physiotherapist will undoubtedly ensure your safety. Lastly, the most important thing is to have fun! So turn up your favourite music and get your body pumping!

  1. Attending a fitness class in the community

There are lots of exercise classes in the community. You can find them at gyms, churches, or senior centres. Unfortunately, most are not tailored to people with dementia. There is however one program – Minds in Motion – that is delivered by the Alzheimer Society. This exercise program is catered to persons with dementia. It runs once a week for 8 weeks in a community recreation centre. Participants engage in 45-60mins of physical activity, and 45-60mins of mentally stimulation activities.

To find out more, follow this link:

  1. Using a Personal Trainer

If you are looking for more one-on-one training, you can access a personal trainer who specializes in dementia. This is a great way to get specially tailored exercise programs that are perfect for you! Because these programs are tailored to you, the time spent exercising will give you the most bang for your buck. You will maintain your independence for longer, be able to get up off the toilet easily, walk to the grocery store, and so much more. Personal training can be offered in a facility or in the home, whatever is preferable to you. Looking for a personal trainer who specializes in dementia in the Waterloo-Wellington Region? Contact MemoryFit at 905-299-1206.


So take that magic pill, no matter which way you do it, so you can live independently, maintain your memory, language skills, judgement capabilities, and have fun with your family!







Who’s Caring for Mom? – Part 2

By Eleanor Pineau

Last week I wrote about an incredible PSW who truly takes pride in her work and shares her love with all she meets. Our interview covered topics such as: (1) how she came to be a PSW; (2) what the general work day of a PSW consists of; and (3) specific topics relating to dementia. In this part 2 of the article, we will discuss the topics relating to dementia.


And so the interview continues:

Tell me about the experiences you have with families who have a loved one with dementia.

“All families are different and unique.” Maryanne gave examples of the different types of families. Some families are always present, making sure their loved one ate, are dressed, engaged in activities, and so on. Some families even request staff to show the resident their photo when they go away. I think that this is interesting for 2 reasons. Why do they Familywant their loved one shown a photo of them? Is it because they don’t want them to forget who they are? Or is it because they want their loved one to know that they care and love them and will be back? Or maybe both.

There are also the families who complain. But Maryanne believes that most of the time, these families just have a different way or a difficult time expressing their love for someone. She does however admit that there are the complainers and whiners.

And then there are the families who do not come at all.

The emotions families experience when a loved one falls ill with dementia are numerous and often conflicting. But what’s interesting is that so many different emotions can cause the same reaction. For example, a family member might visit their loved one because they truly love the person; they may visit them due to a sense of duty; they may visit due to culture; they may visit them because they feel guilty; etc. Although these emotions differ, the person still visits. However, you may be able to imagine that the atmosphere of the visit might change depending on the driving emotion.

I then asked Maryanne more specifically about families and their understanding of dementia.

“Most families understand what’s going on with their loved one with dementia but they don’t accept it! They know it’s dementia, and that they’re losing this and that, but they come to you and ask ‘why is my mom doing this, or doing that?’”

So if families understand what’s going on, but aren’t willing to accept it, how can we help them?

“I think they need support in order to accept it. Unfortunately the PSWs don’t have the time to help the families.” Having access to quality information and support at every stage of the dementia journey is essential to the emotional, physical, psychological, and social health of family members and family caregivers. Families should know that “your mother is at this stage and she will progress to this level, and then that level; her functions will be this, and the care will be that. They just bring them there, with no education or support. They need someone with the expert knowledge and someone with the experience to help them through it”

So where do families access this information and support? Do they have to do everything on their own in such a stressful and overwhelming time? Are the services adequate? You tell me in the comments below.

My next question asked whether she had some tips for people who are caring for someone displaying a behavioural problem.

Immediately, Maryanne replied with:

“Trust your instincts, use unconventional ways of caring for the person, and use an open mind.”

Maryanne told me a story about a man who had a very dirty mouth and would ask for sex every time a female PSW would walk into the room.

“So I walk into his room to get him up and ready for the day and he asked me for sex. I said ‘we will have sex after we go to the bathroom.’ He said ‘really?!’ And I said ‘yes, I promise.’ He got right up and went to the bathroom. For everyone else, he would fight them and wouldn’t go to the bathroom. They would have to do everything for him in there. As soon as I promised him what he wanted, he did it all, and I didn’t even have to help him. It was great. After, he forgot about the sex.”

What is absolutely incredible about this story is the feedback from the daughter. She told Maryanne, with tears in her eyes, that this is the first time that a PSW has not complained about her dad.

So you can see, that when caring for someone who may not be acting in the most socially appropriate way, that it is crucial to trust your instincts, use unconventional ways of caring, and have an open mind. After all, it’s not about you. It’s about making sure the person you are caring for is safe, happy, and has the best quality of life possible.

Another story Maryanne shared with me was about a man and wife living in the same suite, but in different bedrooms. The man would always wander at night and this made the staff very anxious about his safety and wellbeing, as well as the safety and wellbeing of the other residents. Maryanne analyzed the situation. What were the usual arrangements for this man and woman before they came to the home? And then the most obvious solution came to her head, that oddly enough, couldn’t be seen by any of the other staff. They rearranged the suite, put both beds in the same room, and now they shared a room at night. He never wandered again. You see, what was happening, was the man would wake up in the night, see that his wife was not beside him, so he would get up and go searching for her because he wanted to make sure she was ok. Now when he wakes up, he sees that she is right there in the bed beside him.

Again, in people with dementia, you need to look at what’s normal?! What were their routines before the disease? The solutions then come very easy.

To conclude our interview, I asked Maryanne if there was anything else she’d like to tell me. She left me with one striking statement:

“We care for animals, but we don’t care about the elderly. What does that say about us?”



Who’s Caring for Mom? – Part 1

By Eleanor Pineau

I recently had the absolute pleasure of interviewing a personal support worker (PSW for short) who has worked in home care, in assisted living, and in nursing homes. The kindness, love, and passion that emanated from her, was something so moving that it gave me hope and joy for the profession, and for older adults residing in nursing homes. Maryanne is a different kind of person and PSW. She is someone that sees the good in everyone, and even when residents spit, curse, or throw things at her, she remains devoted, loving, and compassionate. I am astounded and overjoyed by the love Maryanne exudes.


During our time, I asked Maryanne a couple of things:

Can you tell me in general, what you do for a living?

Maryanne is a PSW, and is currently working night shifts (11pm-7am) in a nursing home. Since it is night time, residents should be sleeping which leaves the PSWs time to do

senior woman with home caregiver

laundry and make sure all supplies are in order such as towels, and personal hygiene products. Every 30 minutes, Maryanne will check on her 25 residents. She ensures everyone is safe, where they should be, and if they are incontinent (which means they do not have control over their bladder, and sometimes bowels), she will change and wash them. Just like when you care for a baby, you cannot leave them wet or they will get skin sores. All care is done using a “Gentle Care” approach which means taking your time with the resident, not rushing, communicating with the resident what you are doing, and most of all, giving the resident choice – empowering them – with what they want to do, how they want to do it, or what clothes they want to wear.

I then asked Maryanne,

How did you start on this career path or what made you choose to go into this industry?

“I always loved the elderly. Back home, when my grandmother got sick, I gave up my job to be with her.”

Maryanne says that caring for older adults is such a rewarding experiencing and that she gains personal gratification every day. She makes it her goal, to go into the nursing home, and make people happy. She jokes, plays, and talks with the residents whenever she can squeeze in some time in her busy schedule.

She also learns something every single day. Maybe not textbook knowledge, but real-life, applicable knowledge! Imagine that! Learning something from someone so old? (*sarcasm*)

Maryanne told me a couple of stories where she learned something from a resident:

“One lady said when you take the bus, always have something in your hands (like a book), so you keep busy and don’t get into trouble. Keep your hands busy! When you’re busy, you don’t think of sad thoughts, or pay attention to others. I also learned how to knit.”

The most opportune place to learn life lessons is in a facility that houses older adults. After all, they are the ones that have lived through war, famine, and a depression.

The next question went like this:

Tell me about your work with people who have dementia?

“When you’re working in a locked unit, which is the dementia unit, there’s no such thing as ‘routine’! They’re walking around, going through someone else’s room, and taking things from other residents, so you constantly must be manning the unit. All closets are locked too so people can’t get into other peoples’ things. They lie down on someone else’s bed, and we allow them to lie down there because some are tired from walking around the whole day and they don’t recognize it’s not their own bed. If you can redirect them to their own room, then of course we do that. But if it’s an aggressive person, then we let them lie down for a bit and come back later to redirect them.”

I think it is important to highlight that working with someone who has dementia can never be a routine. And this applies to all settings – in the home, in assisted living, in retirement homes, and in nursing homes. It is of utmost importance to be with the person, in that moment, when caring for someone with dementia. If they say someone is standing there (even though no one is), you agree and play along…as long as it’s not hurting them or someone else, and they’re not in danger. This is called Validation Therapy. It literally just means that you live in the moment, in their moment, all the time.

Maryanne also noted that everything needs to be individualized for each person with dementia. For example,

“One [resident] has a doll that she believes is her baby and that she is a new mother. When sitting in the living room, she gets agitated and starts rocking back and forth. But as soon as you give her the doll, she calms down. She really takes care of it. The doll, I think, gives her a sense of purpose and security.”

Caring for someone with dementia means you get to be a kid again. You get to experience their experiences, when they were 60, 43, 22, and even 6 years old. It is a privilege and an incredible experience to live someone else’s life and to learn, so intimately, about that person. When someone with dementia re-lives their teenage years, and you are using validation therapy, you get to be a teenager again too. Full of whit, life, joy, and without a care in the world. Remaining positive and upbeat when caring for someone with dementia makes the adventure of caring so much more fun and rewarding.

From this point of the interview, we can see what excellent care looks like. We can see that someone who is caring for an older person, with or without dementia, needs to show compassion, needs to be patient, needs to be understanding, and most of all, needs to love – regardless of profession. Maryanne is the best example I could have found for going above and beyond caring for older adults. She truly sets the best example for all PSWs, nurses, physicians, family caregivers, and all healthcare professionals, on how to care for someone.


Part 2 of “Who’s Caring for Mom” will be released shortly.

Photo from: 


5 Unusual Things to Remember when Caring for Someone with Dementia

By Eleanor Pineau

Everybody knows the devastating impact dementia has on life – not only on the person who is diagnosed with dementia, but on their family and friends too. Unfortunately, the number of people with dementia in Canada is increasing every year. This means that more and more people with dementia need to be cared for, and most are cared for by their families in the home – at least in the beginning. This is often a daunting task for families. Families will encounter many negative experiences such as role transitions, conflicting mom-daughter-hugemotions, stress, and burnout. They will also experience positive emotions such as happiness and joy from taking care of their parent and giving back for all the years their parent spent rearing them. But how do you go from a lawyer, construction worker, banker, salesperson, or electrician to a caregiver?

When your loved one is diagnosed with dementia, there are 5 key caregiving factors that you NEED to keep in mind.

  1. Understand. I think the most difficult moment in caring for someone with dementia is when they no longer remember who you are. YOU! The child they bore; the son that has been with them for 50 years; the daughter they played with for hours in the yard; the spouse that has loved them since that first touch. In this most debilitating event, you need to remember: they love you. They may not recognize your face or remember your name, but they love you. They chose YOU to be in their life. They chose to take care of YOU. They chose to be with YOU on holidays, soirees, or just a Thursday afternoon. Getting to know why your loved one with dementia is forgetting faces or names is important to you, because this will enable you to understand that there are still ways of reminiscing and connecting with them. For example, play a song that you both used to sing or dance to; cook a favourite meal you always shared; or bring an old blanket you used to cuddle up with. The parts of the brain that are responsible for remembering names and faces are often affected by dementia before the parts of the brain that are responsible for music, smells, and touch. In people with dementia, it can be very helpful to use all their five senses to stimulate memories that are tied to those senses.

Try out this tip and comment below.

  1. Be socially engaged. Both you and your loved one with dementia NEED to remain socially engaged. New research has shown that detrimental effects of being socially vulnerable and lonely. Such effects include: depression, anxiety, weight gain, delirium, and even death. Some tips to get socially engaged for the person with dementia are: attending day programs offered in your community; maintaining friendships through phone calls, letters, emails, and visits; playing games; and socializing with family and grandchildren. Some tips for you to remain socially engaged are: keep going to work; make sure you make time for yourself and your social life; go to the gym; and make sure you go to those parties/get-togethers. I know it’s difficult to care for someone with dementia and take time for yourself. You might feel guilty, and that you can’t trust the person that is caring for your loved one while you are away. But trust me, if both of you are remaining socially engaged, both of your lives will be much better for it. Social activity reduces stress, increases happiness, and reduces the risk of depression! So get out there, make those phone calls, and be social!


  1. Keep physically active. Just like maintaining social health, both your loved one with dementia and you need to be physically active. Physical activity promotes independence, dignity, and quality of life in older adults and in yourself. It also maintains cognitive function which means it might slow the progression of dementia. Exercise will also prevent falls which are one of the leading causes of hospitalization, lost independence and death in older adults. Exercise will also manage all other chronic conditions you or your loved one are experiencing which means less medications and trips to the doctor. Lastly, exercise prevents and treats depression and anxiety, and it acts as a natural pain killer.


  1. Know the services available to you. Community services available to people caring for someone with dementia vary by city, province, and country. Getting to know the services that are available to you is paramount to your success in caring for your loved one with dementia, and yourself! Such services often include: day programs, respite care, home care, physical care, companionship programs, meal programs, medication management, caregiver support programs, and so much more.


  1. Educate yourself. Knowing the in’s and out’s of dementia will enable you to be fully prepared for each step in the dementia journey. Understanding what dementia is, what causes dementia, the prevention and treatment techniques, and what to expect in the future will greatly help you and your family thrive on this journey.

Conclusion: It is essential to: (1) understand, (2) be socially engaged, (3) keep physically active, (4) know the services available to you, and (5) educate yourself in order to thrive when caring for someone with dementia.

Following these 5 essential tips will truly make you and your loved one thrive during your journey. Try out these tips and post your comments and experiences below.


photo from:

The Killer in the Shadows

I want you to think back to a time when you were cooped up at home. Maybe you were doing work from home instead of going to work. No one was home with you. A couple of hours passed and you NEEDED to get out of the house. You needed to see someone, talk to someone, interact with anyone. You started texting your best friend. They didn’t reply. So you texted your next friend, but they didn’t reply either. You started to get desperate and just started going through your contact list trying to find some human contact.

lonely-old-manNow imagine if you didn’t have a phone, and weren’t able to get out of your room. This is how an older adult with a physical and/or cognitive impairment feels – isolated, alone, anxious.

Here’s another story for you – a bit more extreme. Have you ever heard of the SHU – the complete isolation room they put prisoners for bad behaviour for hours, days, or weeks on end? Studies have shown that within hours of complete isolation, people start to hallucinate, become delirious, and essentially lose their minds.

The effects of SOCIAL VULNERABILITY are astounding and are all too often discredited and underestimated.

So what am I talking about? I’m doing research in “Social Vulnerability” among older adults. Whenever I tell someone about my research, they always ask: “What is social vulnerability?”

Social vulnerability is the extent to which your social circumstances increase your risk of experiencing negative health outcomes (for example: cardiovascular disease, depression, etc). So if we look at all the social factors in your life (i.e., social engagement, communication abilities, control over your life, socioeconomic status/money, social networks, social support, etc.), we want to count up the ones you are deficient in. For example, say you can’t speak the same language as others, you don’t engage much with the people in your community, and you don’t have someone you can rely on; then you have 3 social deficits. The more social deficits you have, the greater your risk to adverse health outcomes such as going to hospital, or dying!

So why should we be concerned with social vulnerability? Well first of all, studies have shown that no older adult is completely free of factors that make them socially vulnerable. So everyone is somewhat at risk for a negative health outcome. If we could target the social deficit, then we could reduce the risk for the negative health outcome! Second, social vulnerability has been found to increase the risks of cognitive decline and DEATH! Social vulnerability is also related to frailty and pain! All these things decrease the quality of life of that person, and as I said in my last post, “it is not just about the length of life lived, but the quality of life lived.”

Social health is often overlooked and overshadowed by other domains of health, such as physical health. But it is time to start paying attention to this silent killer that many people discredit. Think of how you feel when you move to a new town or start a new job. You feel alone, isolated, anxious. Maybe your heart rate quickens, or you start to sweat. You have physical reactions to your social and emotional states! This is what causes disease and death! We need to give attention to social vulnerability, so our communities can thrive. We need to care. We need to reach out our hands to our neighbors and ensure everyone has support, has a network, and has engagement. After all, nobody wants to die alone.

By Eleanor Pineau

The Fastest Growing Career!

Have you ever heard of the word “Gerontology”? What about “Geriatrics”? “Pediatrics”? Most people have heard of “pediatrics” before – it’s the doctor who specializes in children. On the other hand, a geriatrician is a doctor who specializes in older adults. Now what is a gerontologist, and what is gerontology? Gerontology is a term most people are unfamiliar with. It is however a term that everyone should get to know – especially older adults. Gerontology is the scientific study of old age, its processes, and the problems faced by older adults relating to physical health, social wellbeing, mental health, and so forth. In lay terms, it’s the study of health and wellbeing in older adults. Gerontologists can be found in an array of institutions including health care, businesses, non-profits, and governments. As a Gerontologist, I study the health and wellbeing of older adults. I work in universities doiabout-gerontology-mng research, in the community and with non-profits. I devise ways to positively impact the lives of older adults. I accomplish this by using research that I, and others have done, which I then implement as programs to individuals, in the community, in facilities (like hospitals, retirement homes, assisted living facilities, and long-term care homes), and at the policy level.

With the aging of the population all across the world (aging population – this means that the median age of a population is increasing; in other words, more and more of our population is now composed of people 65 years and older than it is of persons who are 15 years and younger) the health of older adults is becoming more of a concern. Why is it becoming more of a concern you ask? A lot of media has termed this aging of the population as a gray tsunami that we are unable to cope with. But in fact, new research shows that it is possible to cope with this demographic shift. What is important to consider, is that older adults are the largest and most expensive consumer of health care. In Canada, because the government pays for healthcare through taxation, it is important to devise ways that we can prevent such high expenses. This is where gerontologists come in!

Gerontologists develop and implement strategies that improve and maintain the health of older adults. More importantly, they develop and implement strategies that improve the QUALITY OF LIFE of seniors. (I will talk about the work gerontologists do in an upcoming blog). By doing these things, visits to the doctor, the hospital, and residential moves to retirement homes or the dreaded nursing home, are delayed or prevented altogether!

Now I want to paint you a little picture. Think of a nursing home. What do you see? You see a little old lady sitting in her wheelchair, all alone, in her room. She’s very thin, you can see her blood vessels on her hands, and the light in her eyes has gone out. Now think of your mother, your grandmother, your father or grandfather. Imagine them in the place of this older woman. Living in a nursing home is a fate no person will EVER tell you they want. This picture is unfortunately not an uncommon scenario. As a gerontologist and as a human being, it is my aim to prevent this from happening. With the aging of the baby boom and the subsequent aging of the population, action needs to be taken to support and improve the health and quality of life of older adults. Gerontologists are the first line of action in this quest, and are here to make the lives of the senior population better. Remember, it is not just about the length of life lived, but the quality of life lived.

By Eleanor Pineau

February 24, 2016