Winter Walking Safety

walk_like_a_penguinWinter came early in many parts of Canada this year. Freezing temperatures, snow and ice often create hazardous conditions that make it challenging for many Canadians to stay active.

To help you cope with the challenges of winter walking here are some tips from the Ontario Senior’s Secretariat, Canada Safety Council and Women’s College Hospital:

Plan ahead:

  • Keep sidewalks, steps and driveways well lit. Consider installing sensor lights.
  • Spread salt, sand or non-clumping cat litter on walkways to keep them free of ice. Carry a small bag of salt, sand or non-clumping cat litter in your pocket to spread on icy patches when out walking.
  • Carry your personal identification and a cell phone when walking alone.
  • Ask a friend or a neighbour to come along with you.
  • Plan your route. Let others know where you are going and when you will be back if you are walking alone.
  • Give yourself enough time to get where you are going without rushing.
  • Wear bright colours or add reflective material to your clothing.
  • Consider using a cane with an ice pick to help with balance (be sure to change it back indoors, picks can be slippery on hard surfaces).
  • Always replace the rubber tip on the cane before it is worn down.
  • The Canadian Physiotherapy Association suggests wearing the footwear you plan to use while walking when you adjust the height of your walking aid. To get the right height, hold the cane in the hand opposite your weak or injured side to maintain proper arm swing, improve weight shifting, and encourage a normal walking pattern. When measuring the proper height of the cane, stand tall and place the tip of the cane on the floor, approximately 15 centimetres away from your foot. With arms resting comfortably at your sides, adjust the height of the cane so that its handle is level with your wrist crease.
  • Speak to your doctor, pharmacist or local public health department about how to use your cane properly

Be Active:

  • Keep moving in the winter months to stay strong, help your balance and give you more energy.
  • Do indoor balance and stretching exercises.
  • Consider joining a balance and strength class such as Tai Chi.

Wear the Gear:

  • Cover your ears, head and fingers to avoid frostbite.
  • Wear sunglasses and a visor to reduce glare from sun and snow.
  • Dress in layers to stay warm.
  • Wear well insulated, waterproof boots with a wide low heel and a thick non-slip tread. Remove snow from boots before entering a building.
  • Consider a hip protector (a lightweight belt or pant with shields to guard the hips). It can help protect the hips against fractures and give added confidence.

Walking on Ice:

  • On icy surfaces, take small flat-footed steps.
  • Walk at a slower pace.
  • First, slow down and think about your next move. Keeping your body as loose as possible, spread your feet to more than a foot apart to provide a base of support. This will help stabilize you as you walk. Next, keep your knees loose and don’t let them lock. If you can, let them bend a bit. This will keep your centre of gravity lower to the ground, which further stabilizes the body. Now you are ready to take a step. Make the step small, placing your whole foot down at once. Then shift your weight very slowly to this foot and bring your other foot to meet it the same way. Keep a wide base of support.
  • Some people prefer to drag their feet or shuffle them. If this feels better to you, then do so. Just remember to place your whole foot on the ice at once and keep your base of support approximately one foot wide.

Often community services offer help with snow removal and transportation. Contact your local municipality for information.

Older Adults and Addictions

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse will be observing National Addictions Awareness Week from November 17 to 21 this year. Although substance abuse and addictions may be commonly associated with youth (this years theme is Youth Substance Abuse Prevention), many older adults also struggle with addiction.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada Health care professionals may experience difficulty identifying older adults with alcohol and drug abuse problems because ‘indicators such as memory problems, confusion, lack of self-care, depression, sleep problems and falls may be incorrectly attributed to the effects of aging’.

According to the Canadian Research Network for Care in the Community older adults who experience depression are three to four more times likely to develop alcohol problems. Risk factors include retirement, anxiety, loss of life partner and isolation.

Older adults process alcohol slower than younger individuals and therefore feel the effects of alcohol more. The effects of drug and alcohol abuse are more harmful to older adults than younger individuals. Substance abuse has the potential to increase an older adults risk of injury and illness.

Older adults who suffer from addictions may not reach out for help because of feelings of shame and privacy issues. Given the continuing growth of the older adult demographic, addictions among Canadians age 65+ have the potential to become a growing concern. Addiction is a treatable medical problem. If you suspect an older adult in your life is struggling with addiction contact your family doctor for resources and support.


Diabetes Awareness Month

diabetes-exerciseAccording to the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) more than nine million Canadians live with diabetes or prediabetes.

What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease, in which the body cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. Normally, insulin that is produced in the pancreas, opens cells so the glucose (sugar) in your body can be released and used for energy.

Type 1 diabetes
When individuals have type 1 diabetes the body mistakenly destroys the insulin produced by the pancreas therefore glucose builds up in the blood. There is no way to prevent type one diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes, is when the body does not properly use the insulin produced by the pancreas or does not make enough insulin to maintain normal glucose levels.

Type 2 diabetes may be prevented by:

Type 2 diabetes risk factors that cannot be controlled are:

  • Aging
  • Genetics

The most important thing an individual can do to prevent type 2 diabetes is to maintain a healthy body weight. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada self-reported obesity peaks in individuals aged 60 to 69 years of age. In 2009-2010, 22.5% of females age 60-69 and 22.6% males age 60-69 were obese.

Is a condition when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes may be prevented by the same methods as type 2 diabetes.

If you are wondering whether or not you are at risk for diabetes take the CANRISK diabetes test and find out.

The Benefits of Companion Pets

Maggie and SusieOur perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.”
~ Colette

Studies have shown that companion animals have the capacity to improve an individuals physical and mental well-being. A study entitled Evolution of Research into the Mutual Benefits of Human-Animal Interaction states that research in the field of human-animal interaction is improving our understanding of the role that pets play in:
– cardiovascular health
– ability to cope with stress
– retaining health and mobility into old age
– alleviating social isolation and building sense of community engagement
– and possibly enhance our immune function

So it seems, pets may be the perfect medicine for a number of issues that face some older adults such as social isolation and poor health. Non-profit organizations like the ones listed below enable older adults to enjoy the benefits of animal contact.

Elderdog Canada not only assists older adults in caring for their dogs but also cares for elder dogs who have lost their human companion.

Therapeutic Paws of Canada provides a volunteer-based pet therapy dog and cat visitation program’. The program involves volunteers and their pets visiting community institutions such as hospitals and long term care homes.

St. John Ambulance’s Therapy Dog Program provides a pet therapy visitation program that ‘brings joy and comfort to the sick, lonely and those in need of a friendly visit’. Regular visits allow the patients to develop a bond with the dog.

Check out the book Betty White’s Pet-Love: How Pet’s Take Care of Us to learn hownoted actress and animal lover Betty White draws on personal experience and the studies of leading authorities to show how science has confirmed what pet owners have known instinctively all along – that pets contribute to the health and well-being of their owners’.