Is It Time for Your Parent to Go Into Managed Care?

One of the certainties in life is that we will all age. Taking good care of your health will help to ease age-related mental and physical infirmities, but no matter what you do, the Grim Reaper will get us all in the end.

Prior to that, you may reach a point where independent living is no longer an option. This can be quite painful for yourself, and the discomfort is no less when we see a parent decline in this way.

Here are some signs that your parent(s) may no longer be capable of living on their own:

  • Home Safety. Is your parent having problems getting around in their home? As we age, our bones become more brittle, which means that a fall which would have little effect on a younger person could prove very serious for a senior. If the home has stairs, is the elderly person still able to safely navigate them?
  • Cognitive Impairment. Does your father or mother show signs of mental fogginess? Our memory does not work as well as it used to when we age, but if a person starts forgetting where they are going, the name of a family member, or how to get home, this is quite serious and can lead to accidents and even death.
  • Advanced Care Needs. We all want to be there for our parents and many adult children act as caregivers so that their parents do not have to go into managed care. However, being a caregiver is a major responsibility that can take a toll on a person if they do not have a sufficient degree of help and periodic breaks. A caregiver suffering from exhaustion and depression cannot properly look after themselves, let alone another human being.

If any of these issues are apparent, it is probably time to have a serious conversation with your family member. Putting someone into managed care can be a difficult decision, but, in the end, the right one.

Almost 50% of Canadians Will Develop Cancer

The Canadian Cancer Society issued a press release yesterday stating that almost one out of every two Canadians (49% of men and 45% of women) will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. On top of that, one out of every four will perish from that malignancy.

Those are very sobering statistics. The number of cancer deaths each year is on the rise and the disease is now the leading cause of death in Canada.

The cancer society “emphasizes that the rise in cancer cases is primarily being driven by an aging and growing population…an estimated 206,200 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and almost 90% of these cases will be among Canadians 50 years of age and older. As more people live into old age, the number of cancer cases will continue to rise.” About 90% of all cancer cases in 2017 will occur among people 50 and over.

The scourge of pancreatic cancer continues. Only 8% of those afflicted survive the disease, which will soon be the third largest cause of death among Canadians.

Is there a silver lining? It doesn’t seem like one is obvious beyond the fact that about half of all cancers are preventable.

However, as depressing as this news sounds, it is important to remember how far along we have come:

  • In the 1940s, the survival rate for cancer was 25%; it is now 60%.
  • Certain cancers, like thyroid and testicular, now have a five-year net survival of over 90%.
  • The CCS continues to aggressively target cancer and invested $40 million into cancer research in 2016.

You can do your part by financially supporting cancer research and living a healthy lifestyle that includes daily exercise, a proper diet, and regular cancer screenings.

Cancer will touch our lives in one way or another, but you can help to reduce the suffering. Take the time to do the right thing for both yourself and your fellow Canadians.

Graphic showing normal and cancer cell division

Misuse of Antibiotics Inadvertently Threatening Everyone’s Health

Antibiotics have saved countless lives over the years and the world has benefited tremendously from their creation. However, like all drugs, these can be misused and the results can be catastrophic for everyone.  They can indeed be too much of a good thing.

While our current crop of antibiotics has been effective at largely neutering some diseases, new strains are appearing. The drugs we have on hand are not working and scientists are having trouble creating new ones that will have the desired effect. While it seems impossible to consider in this advanced age, we could be facing a new era comparable to the times when major outbreaks like the black plague killed millions of people.

There are several theories as to why doctors are relying too heavily on antibiotics in their treatment regimen. One of the most prominent is the thinking that, if they do not prescribe something that will make a patient well quickly, they will be deemed ineffectual. The unfortunate fact is that many people are given physician approval to take drugs for conditions that don’t require them.

Possible solutions include changing the way in which young doctors are educated. Instead of relying on prescriptions so heavily, the new crop of physicians need superior diagnostic skills in order to recognize when drugs are truly the answer to a patient’s problems.

While the burden of responsibility is on the medical side, it is important for people to do their part. Think about how you are feeling. There is nothing wrong with seeing a doctor, but if this is something you have had before, can you remember how you got through it previously? People just need to take a few sick days filled with rest in order to overcome certain ailments. If that is the case, try to go this route instead of automatically reaching for antibiotics. We will all benefit from your restraint in the end.



Overcrowding in Ontario Hospitals an Increasing Problem

Do you find that you are having to wait longer and longer for surgery in Ontario? When you have had a procedure or are in hospital for another reason, do you find that you are being discharged faster than in the past?

Well, both of these are true and are symptoms of the increasing issue of overcrowding in Ontario’s hospital system. Part of the issue is population growth, particularly among senior citizens. As the province’s continuing care system is already strained to the limit, there can be long wait times before such beds become available. This means that seniors in fragile health with nowhere to go end up remaining in hospitals longer. That reduces the number of acute care beds available to other members of the public.

The need to free up beds can make hospitals seem particularly uncaring, as illustrated by this recent case in Toronto. Frail elderly people need attention and care that the overburdened health system is not managing to provide for them.

Over the period running from 2012 through the present, seven Ontario hospitals routinely had occupancy rates over 100%. This results in patients being put into hallways and other areas not generally used for care. The result is undue stress for these individuals and a lower quality of care due to overburdened doctors and nurses.

After being the victims of budget cuts for a number of years, Ontario’s hospitals are badly in need of additional funding. How to make the provincial government come through with this badly needed cash is the question. One strategy the government has proposed is to put seniors into private retirement homes, in order to make more hospital beds available.

This would be done at no cost to the patients. The price would actually be lower for the province and such accommodation would be better for the patients’ mental health. Still, the best situation would be to provide our health care system with the money it needs to improve efficiency and effectiveness for everyone.

Are Hospitals a New Target for Hackers?

Hacking is becoming an increasing problem around the world. Possible Russian meddling in the recent U.S. election received much coverage, but hacking actually occurs far more often than you might suspect. Not surprisingly, countries and companies do not want people to know when they have been hacked and do not reveal such cyber intrusions unless forced to.

Hacking can have a very real effect on the average person. Cases of identity theft are on the rise and various malware programs can turn your computer into a bot that is used for cyber attacks. One of the worries about the increasingly computerized state of cars is whether they can be easily hacked and used as deadly weapons that can ram other vehicles or plow through crowds of pedestrians.

Hospitals are viewed as bastions of safety that help us when we are at our most vulnerable. However, they rely on high tech, computerized equipment that is vulnerable to hackers without the proper cyber security and due diligence on the part of IT staff.

Health care records are the primary target of hackers as they provide a wealth of personal information that can be used for identity theft purposes. Older versions of Microsoft Windows that lacked the most recent security updates were exploited by the Wanna Cry virus, which led to problems in countries all over the world.

There is also the possibility that malicious hackers could take down hospital security systems just for the hell of it. They could cause power failures, take out vital operating systems, interfere with environmental controls…the results could be catastrophic and lead patients to reconsider having even simple procedures done.

It is up to hospital administrative teams to make sure their IT departments are keeping on top of this issue. The amount of time required is minimal, but the added security is extremely valuable.

Could Legalizing Pot Reduce Opioid Use?

Opioid addiction has proven to be a difficult problem for governments around the world and the situation is approaching crisis levels here. In Alberta and British Columbia, the number of fentanyl-related deaths have increased by a factor of ten in just three years.

It is also taking a financial toll. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the government spent $93 million in 2014 on medications that treat people with opioid addictions. That is up more than $35 million from the total spent three years earlier.

People with chronic pain conditions absolutely deserve relief, but scientists have struggled as to how they can provide that respite from sometimes crippling discomfort, without also causing the recipient to spiral into addiction.

Medical marijuana has been increasingly accepted as a source of pain relief for people with people with neuropathic conditions. In sharp contrast to opioids, pot is rarely addictive and it is largely impossible to overdose on it. Marijuana is also effective at reducing discomfort from muscle spasms brought on by multiple sclerosis, as well as other forms of relief. Some scientists feel that we would be much further along in medical marijuana use if the drug’s legal status was made clear across the globe.

Scientists report that pot interacts with the same brain receptors as opioids. Tests are currently under way on how medical marijuana compares to drugs like fentanyl when it comes to effectiveness at treating both chronic and acute pain. There is also hope that pot can help to alleviate the serious discomfort one undergoes from opioid withdrawal.

Recreational marijuana becomes legal in Canada in 2018, and that will no doubt lead some with various types of pain to feel more confident about trying it. The official prognosis remains to be seen, but it is hopeful that medical marijuana will help provide a solution to one of the most serious health crises in some time.

What Does Depression Feel Like?

Have you ever been depressed? Chances are you have, but those feelings eventually passed and you moved on with your life. Now imagine what it feels like to have chronic depression and feel down more often than up.

One of the best ways to relate to another person is to understand what they experience. There is more information than ever out there about depression, but some people still do not fully grasp what it is like to live with this constant sadness. Telling someone who is depressed to simply get up and feel better will not work because it is not that easy.

If you have never experienced chronic depression and wish to better relate to someone who does, here are some things that person might be regularly experiencing.

  • Grey and dreary days are less enjoyable overall; imagine always perceiving the world that way, even when those around you are enjoying the sunlight? The fact that you know others are happy while you are sad just intensifies those feelings.
  • Imagine going through life with no sense of joy or fun. Things that previously brought you pleasure now mean nothing. You feel there is nothing to look forward to and no reason to get out of bed in the morning.
  • You constantly feel like you have no energy. This makes even the basics of day-to-day life a struggle. On top of that, you have trouble sleeping, so it feels like an endless cycle of fatigue with no sense of relief.
  • Your use of food borders on abusive. You either eat excessively to try and stave off sadness or you do not feel like eating and soon feel sick due to malnutrition.
  • Ever had a nagging pain that wouldn’t go away? Depression not only causes mental anguish. It can actually leave you with physical pain that doesn’t let up.

These are just a few of the common symptoms of depression. Do you suffer from it? Don’t worry, you are not alone and there are people out there ready to help. Consult with your family doctor or local mental health association for information on therapy and how it can change your life for the better.

New Mental Health app Created by Toronto Police

One of the biggest issues with Canada’s mental health system is wait times. It’s great that the help is out there, but most mental health issues require fairly fast access to treatment in order to, not only, help the person, but prevent possible tragedy.

This is especially true when such issues require police intervention. So Toronto police are now using an app that is proactive in intent. The idea is that, if someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, they can use it to quickly and easily know what services are available to them. This will hopefully prevent occurrences such as the Sammy Yatim shooting from a few years back.

Developed with the assistance of students from Ryerson University, the app (called Community Asset Portal) is currently getting about 50 uses per day. This is below the average of 70 mental health calls Toronto police typically get daily, but still a significant number, particularly as CAP has not been around for too long.

Ways to de-escalate crisis situations are commonly practiced by police officers and CAP is a way to hopefully prevent many from occurring in the first place. Ideally, developers would also like the general public to use the app for the same purpose.

Are you feeling deeply depressed, stressed, or otherwise down in the dumps? Are you just not yourself and have felt off for some time? You could be in the early stages of a mental health crisis, so it is important to take the necessary steps and have yourself evaluated by a professional therapist.

If you feel like you are in crisis and might harm yourself, either call 9-11 or the crisis line at your local mental health association. Someone will speak with you, evaluate your situation, and advise you on what steps to take next. Many of us are proactive about our physical health; we need to be just as diligent with our mental health.

June 13th is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day

The stigma around mental illness is gradually starting to lift. Many people would previously not even consider seeing a therapist or telling family, friends or their supervisor that they were struggling. However, things have improved in recent years and, as a result, many lives that would have been lost to suicide have instead been saved. More and more people see the value in being open and accept that they need help.

This change has been a more difficult one for men. Traditionally, males are taught to keep their feelings to themselves and not show signs of weakness. This resulted in many troubled men not seeking help when they desperately needed it, sometimes leading to tragedy for both themselves and those around them.

Unfortunately, men carry out 80% of the suicides in Canada, with those aged 40-60 the ones most likely to take their own lives. This demographic has a particularly difficult time adjusting to life changes, such as downturns in employment, divorce, and relationship abuse.

Anti-depressants are one way to combat depression. These can be prescribed by a family doctor, rather than a therapist. However, as Joel Wong, Ph.D., a professor of counseling psychology at Indiana University puts it, “Pills don’t teach skills.”

The ideal way to combat mental illness issues like anxiety and depression is to develop both coping skills and a new attitude towards life and its problems. Regular appointments featuring talk therapy allow clients to voice their concerns to the therapist, something they may not be able to do with a partner, family members, or friends. Also, while those individuals are more than likely anxious to help, they lack the professional skills to advocate the correct approach.

Ongoing therapy allows clients and therapists to develop a wellness plan and adjust it accordingly. Keeping that open dialogue going provides an extremely valuable lifeline to help deal with one of the life’s most difficult challenges.



Canadian Students Seek More Mental Health Assistance

University can be a very trying period in a person’s life. For many students, it is their first time living away from home. The work load is also much higher than high school, and when you combine all of these responsibilities together, it can be quite stressful. There is also the rising cost of education and the knowledge that, even if you get a degree, that is no guarantee of a job and you still must deal with student loans and other debts accumulated while in school.

Universities have some mental health supports in place for students, but these are seen as increasingly inadequate due to the number of people requesting them.

On the one hand, that growing number of students seeking supports indicates that the stigma associated with mental illness is decreasing. However, if there are an insufficient number of counselors and an especially long wait time, these people are not getting the help that they seek, making their bravery seem futile.

There is also the issue of how serious the cases can be. Typically, students only see counselors for a handful of sessions, and that is not nearly enough for problems like major depression and suicidal ideation.

As a result, some students are seeking private counseling. There are many well-qualified and beneficial therapists in this country, and their wait times are typically much faster than those funded by the government. However, there is the issue of cost. These therapists typically charge north of $100 an hour for an appointment, which is often well beyond what a typical student can afford given their other financial responsibilities.

So, what is the answer? Ideally, we need to increase access and decrease wait times for students needing this help. However, like so many things in life, it always seems to boil down to money. That is very unfortunate.