Guest Blog: The Prevalence of HIV/AIDS Among Older Adults

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By Mandisa Sifelani

I have always enjoyed working with older adults, so coming to the Centre as a practicum student was exciting for me, but also it was to challenge myself. Challenge myself in the area of research. As this is a skill I had been learning in my classes, I was eager to put theory into practice, and what better place for me to practice, than at the Centre for Elder Research.

As my interest has always been in older adults, the issue of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among older adults caught my attention. There is a lot of dialogue and open discussions surrounding HIV/AIDS in general, however, there is not much focus on the aging population, and there needs to be. In some way, older adults have become “the forgotten” generation.

According to Statistics Canada, the rise in HIV/AIDS cases among older adults is rising, and so is that of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Too often older adults are sidelined and are not being tested for HIV, because their symptoms are associated with ageing. This is according to the Community AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE), who also state that low knowledge and testing can lead to a diagnosis of HIV in older adults, which may rapidly progress and make it difficult to treat.

Older Persons living with HIV/AIDS experience a “double jeopardy” of HIV stigma and ageism, where they perceive ageism in accessing AIDS service organizations, and HIV stigma in accessing non-HIV services (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2015). So because of this “double jeopardy”, how can older adults living with HIV/AIDS be supported in their quality of life? Here are some steps that can be taken;

  • Educate older adults
  • Educate families, caregivers and physicians
  • Facilitate workshops on prevention and safe sex practices for older adults
  • Be inclusive of older adults in approaches and strategies to a better quality of living with HIV/AIDS.

Furthermore, I have to mention how the use of technology (iPads, Laptops, Smartphones and computers), can be a great asset and tool for older adults to use in finding online resources, (literature, support groups, agencies), which not only increases their awareness about HIV/AIDS, but it keeps them in the “loop” on what is new in the medical field. Additionally, the use of technology, can connect older adults with their physicians through online dialogues/consultations, plus interactions with family, friends, and other older adults living with HIV/AIDS. Which is a key factor in ensuring that they do not succumb to isolation and loneliness, which plays a significant role in the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS.

To gain more insight on this growing social issue, an article entitled The graying of HIV: 1 in 6 new U.S. cases are people older than 50 highlights the growing number of older adults in the United States, which parallels with Canadian older adults as the growing numbers are similar in our own backyard.

In conclusion, I can honestly attest to how my time at the Centre has truly brought theory into practice. In my role as a practicum student I have been able to partake in a couple of projects, which have all aided me in seeing community research in action. My love for research has grown, and with the support of the research team at the Centre, I will always be grateful for the learning opportunity and experience.

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Mandisa Sifelani, B.S.W, is an M.S.W Candidate, 2016 at York University, currently working at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research as a practicum student. Her major focus of work has been on older adults and aging, and until recently how the inclusion of technology can be an asset in helping to curb isolation and loneliness with the aging population.

Business of Aging: The Growing Phenomena of Seniorpreneurs

As we mentioned in a previous blog, a seniorpreneur is an older adult who creates a new business that usually takes advantage of their extensive work experience, well-established networks, and desire to remain engaged. Often older adult entrepreneurs are able to recognize a need and create innovative solutions based on their years of life experience.

An article entitled Late Bloomers: These Entrepreneurs are Tapping a Lifetime of experience in their business, highlights the stories of ten seniorpreneurs who draw
on a lifetime of experiences to create successful businesses. For example, entrepreneur Pete Decomo shares that “The Vietnam experience taught me to handle stress in a way that most people never experience. To this day, when I feel a little stressed in my startup role, I say to myself you handled that, you can handle this.” Their stories are all different but what they all seem to have in common is good business acumen and the willingness to “go for it”.

Join us at the next Business of Aging: Information Exchange Network (BA:IEN) meeting on Wednesday, April 27, for a conversation about the Centre’s Seniorpreneurship Think Tank. See flyer for details.

BAIEN mtg Apr_27_16

Guest Blog: What is the Business of Aging?

_C4A3669HRBy Kateryna Yavorska-Vietrova

When I first came in for my co-op interview with Pat Spadafora, the Director of the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, I was definitely excited for all the new opportunities, but I was also very anxious. I was about to start working on the Business of Aging Network, but honestly, I had less than a vague idea about what that would mean.
Before the first week at the Centre, my understanding of older adults was, in a way, representative of the beliefs of “an average Canadian”. I would imagine a typical granny – retired, spending her time gardening, solving crossword puzzles and cooking something delicious for the grandkids from an old hand-written recipe book. My biggest question was, what does business have to do with it?

The answer is – everything. The research that I had a chance to be involved in with the Centre has truly opened my eyes on the issue. In reality, older adults not only represent
a significant proportion of the population (according to Statistics Canada seniors accounted for a record high of 14.8% of the population in 2011, up from 13.7% five years earlier), but also possess a great amount of untapped buying power. It is truly unthinkable that such an opportunity is missed by many businesses all across the country. To be more specific, I am not talking about the pharmacies or retirement homes – the growing older adult market is important for any industry. We are about to face a whole new generation of mature consumers, who can be reached and heard (!) online. This is the age of grandparents’ Skyping with their children, posting comments and sharing stories on Facebook and reaching out to businesses through online feedback.

The change can be seen not just in communications, but also in the needs and interests of older adults. One of my personal favourite industries to look at is technology. For instance, if we look at the United States, 68% of the population in their early 70s go online, and 55% have broadband at home. Of those older adults (65+) who use the Internet, 71% go online every day or almost every day. (Pew Research Center). These numbers reveal an interesting truth about today’s mature shoppers – they could be looking to upgrade their smartphone, they likely know how to use a tablet, they may be buying new apps or setting up a Netflix subscription. Of course, it would be unwise to generalize and assume that any 70-year-old is a tech-pro, but the statement that older adults are unwilling to accept technology is definitely turning into a myth.

I also wanted to point out that, as a result of limited Canadian data, I used findings from
a US poll earlier in my post. The fastest growing segment of the population is critically overlooked. In fact, many consumer surveys, when it comes to age, would simply put everyone over age 65+ together in one group. This approach is destined to fail, as practice shows that the experience of being 66 is much different from being 81 or 95. Categorizing all these individuals as one group will skew the results and hide many important insights into preferences and behaviour. Moreover, society has been so blind
to its aging demographic, that an astonishing amount of comments in the survey results from older adults I read say “I feel invisible” and “I am often ignored”. These are all individuals who are willing to be active; many of them have money to spend and all of them have needs and wants that businesses are not even aware of.

I wanted to conclude this post by saying that the Business of Aging is, in fact, about everyone. It is no longer an exclusive club of healthcare providers and pharmacists – aging today has so many shapes and forms that any industry from technology to recreation, from education to housing will feel its effects. Growing older can mean so many different things, and that is why many consumers look for holistic solutions. Collaboration between companies is now not just an opportunity, but sometimes a necessity for survival.

I have been lucky to work with the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research for almost a year, and it was a transformative experience that gave me a new understanding of aging. I am excited to bring the views and values I learned here forward in my career.

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Kateryna Yavorska-Vietrova has been a student research assistant at the Centre for Elder Research since May 2015. Kateryna will be receiving her degree from the Global Business Management program this April.

Guest Blog: Get a grip – Easy to install, cost efficient grab bars

By Mary Jane Carroll

Recently, my friend Dorothy called to ask about easy, inexpensive home modification options to help her 90+-year-old parents’ to age comfortably and safely in place. Specifically, she was concerned with renovation options that might be available that wouldn’t negatively impact the re-sale value of their property and that would allow her parents to remain in their two-story, split-level home for as long as possible. Did I know
of any off-the-shelf products that might work? Would expensive renovations be necessary? Could she find solutions that would be aesthetically pleasing yet provide
the necessary safety features?

Dorothy is not the first person to ask me questions about strategies for aging in place in recent months. With the longer life expectancy of the average Canadian (approximately
81 years) and the majority of older adults who wish to age in place (70% plus), more and more people are looking for answers about home modifications that make sense financially and aesthetically.

My response to questions such as these is always the same: begin with the most dangerous room in the house, the bathroom. Slipping, tripping or stumbling can have serious consequences for all of us, and older adults are the most vulnerable of all groups. Studies show that falling injuries are more likely to occur in the bathroom than in any other room of the house. Falls can lead to reduced mobility, loss of independence, and hospitalization and are the leading cause of fatal injuries for adults 65 and over.

The simplest, most straightforward way to help prevent falls in the bathroom is to install grab bars. Grab bars provide the necessary support for people of all ages with balance issues. Although they are one of the best safety solutions, grab bars have the reputation for also being one of the ugliest. In my experience, people don’t want their homes to look like hospital rooms or institutions and are reluctant to install anything that suggests diminished health or capability. Add to this the cost and disruption factors associated
with installing traditional grab bars and you are left with too many older adults using
sinks and towel bars to support themselves – objects that are incapable of supporting
full weight in a fall.

What many consumers aren’t yet aware of is a new grab bar technology that has transformed traditional grab bar design and installation. Through the use of super strong suction cups this new generation of grab bar is easy to install, easy to use and is affordable by most people (average cost is about $30 depending upon the length of the bar you need and on the supplier you choose.) And they are available in most home improvement and bathroom supply stores, and not just in medical supply stores as with the older version. The new grab bars can be installed and removed without tools and without professional help. They aren’t permanent and there is no damage to bathroom walls. Additionally, they can be positioned and re-positioned for custom placement.
You can even take them with you on holidays if you like.

Suction cup grab-bars also tend to be more attractive than their more permanent counterpart. They come in a range of colors from the more traditional white and chrome
to bright colours such as blue, green or orange.

Remember, when choosing a grab bar consider:

  • Grip diameter – make sure the diameter of the bar fits comfortably in your hand.
  • Placement – most common areas to place a grab bar are near toilets, and on shower and bathtub walls.
  • Orientation – horizontal grab bars are good for pulling up from a seated position. Vertical and diagonal accommodate for users of varying heights, including providing support for children.
  • Length of bar required – measure before you buy.

Finally, when installing grab bars of any type, be careful. Ensure that you follow the manufacturer’s directions closely. Also, note that most of these suction cup grab bars must no cross the grout line in order to maintain strong suction, and that they must be installed on a non-porous surface. And finally, you get what you pay for. Less expensive versions may not be as satisfactory as the slightly more expensive version.

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Mary Jane Carroll is a professor in the Bachelor of Interior Design program at Sheridan College. She developed a specialized post-diploma program at Sheridan called “Aging
in Place Design Specialist”. Mary Jane was published in “Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments,” and has presented her papers on Universal Design in England and the USA.