Guest Blog: Dancing through life: Participation in a dance training program for community-based older adults with multiple medical comorbidities issues

By Kate Dupuis

Dance is one of the oldest art forms, with depictions of dancers dating back over 30,000 years. Even if we think that we have “two left feet”, when a favourite song comes on the radio, it is hard not to tap our toes or dance along in our seats. Throughout our lifespan, dance can help us to connect with others, express our emotions, and strengthen our bodies. Indeed, dance has many potential benefits as we age. Research has shown that, as we age, dance can benefit cognitive health (for example, improvements in memory and processing speed when remembering fancy footwork during ballroom dancing, or trying to keep up with the caller’s instructions when square dancing), physical health (increased strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance), mental well-being (reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression), and social well-being (developing connections with others through dance, making new friends, getting to know the instructor). The physical benefits of dance may be particularly crucial for those older adults with mobility issues who may be at a heightened risk of falls. While many communities offer dance programs, these may not account for or provide accommodations for individuals who are experiencing multiple medical comorbidities, including mobility challenges.

At the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, we are currently conducting a research study in which community-dwelling older adults with mobility issues and at least two other medical comorbidities (e.g., high blood pressure, vision loss) are participating in 12 weeks of twice-weekly dance instruction. The sessions are led by a professionally-trained dance instructor, who has taken the time to understand each participant’s strengths and challenges, and makes specific accommodations for each of the dancers depending on their needs. We spoke with Pat Spadafora, the Director of the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, who said that “the decision was made to hire a professionally-trained dancer in order to capitalize on the extensive repertoire of material from her own training and performances which she can draw upon for inspiration and instruction during the sessions. In addition, professionally-trained dancers understand the biomechanics and anatomy involved in dance, which results in these teachers being able to make a wide variety of accommodations for their participants.” These accommodations are necessary and welcome for our participants.

The dance instructor, Paula Skimin, reports that she has seen remarkable improvements in the participants over the course of the program, including improvements in balance, stability, and “developing a knowledge of their skeleton and skeletal structure, which allows for more stability.” She stated that, from a social perspective, the participants have become comfortable sharing with one another, and that many have cried during class when specific songs have touched them. She has worked to “create a safe space where people feel comfortable to express themselves and to share about their past, present, and future.”

At the end of the 12 weeks, the researcher will meet with each of the participants individually to discuss their perspective on the program. Many of them have already expressed a desire to continue with their dancing. We hope that, with new evidence to support the provision of dance training for individuals with multiple medical comorbidities, we will be able to offer similar programs in the future!

Kate Dupuis is the new Schlegel Innovation Leader in Arts and Aging at Sheridan College. She studies how participation in the creative and performing arts can serve to enhance the wellbeing of older adults. In particular, Kate is interested in discovering the personal characteristics of individuals who are drawn to participate in the arts, and identifying the physical, psychological, social, and systemic barriers to participation.


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

hiv blog






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.

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.

Guest Blog: Personal Training Works at Any Age


By Erin Billowits

The traditional image of personal training is a buff twenty-something trainer asking clients to ‘drop down and give them 20 pushups’. The world of personal training has changed in the last ten years to a place with trainers specialized in pre and post natal care, weight loss and active aging to name a few. If you have a complicated health history, low motivation or haven’t exercised in years don’t be intimidated to work with a personal trainer.

A few questions to ask yourself before hiring a personal trainer:

  1. What do you want to get out of the sessions? What are your fitness goals? One of the benefits of working with a trainer is developing and tracking fitness goals. Pick a goal that will impact your life as opposed to focusing solely on the number on a scale. How about training for a trip that you are planning, reducing the pain in your knees so you can walk more or sleep better or trying a new sport or activity?
  2. What personality style do you find motivating? You will spend quite a bit of time with your personal trainer and it is important that you find them motivating and enjoyable to be with. Do you like people who motivate by example, a trainer whose positive energy gets you through the session or maybe a trainer that diligently tracks and reports your progress works best for you. Knowing what style you find most inspiring will set you up to stick with your exercise program.
  3. What is stopping you now? Without judging or blaming yourself spend some time thinking about what is stopping you from exercising now. Is it lack of motivation? Being unsure of which exercises to do? Pain? Your trainer choice may be different depending on your answer.
  4. What could interfere with success? Some days it will be harder to exercise than others but if you think through what could get in your way and plan around it you will break through your barriers to exercise. What happens if it is raining on the morning of a planned walk; your appointment went 30 minutes over or an old injury flares up? A good trainer should ask you what could interfere with your success and plan around it.
  5. What qualifications and references do they have? All personal trainers in Canada need to be certified. Ask to see their certifications and to call a past client for a reference. If you are an older adult make sure that they have specialized training and well as experience working with any health conditions or injuries that you have.

Erin Billowits is the owner of Vintage Fitness, an in home personal training company which are experts in 50+ fitness. For more information go to If you are interested in on-line personal training go to


Technology and Aging: Technology to Support Aging in Place

Aging in place has become a popular term to describe an older adult’s wish to age in his or her own home and neighbourhood. Numerous studies have shown that this option is preferred by a large majority of North Americans.

For those who plan to age in place, technology has the capacity to provide support for them and for their caregivers. For example, home monitoring devices allow an individual’s family/caregiver to keep track of their activities and well-being. Listed below is a small sampling of home monitoring devices and what they have to offer.


Evermind for family caregivers tracks an individual’s routine, such as brewing a morning cup of coffee, by detecting when electrical appliances are turned on and off. This system maintains an individual’s privacy by allowing caregivers to detect changes in activity that may be cause for concern without the use of invasive cameras.


BeClose uses sensors placed around the home to keep track of normal routines. When something is out of the ordinary a caregiver is notified by text, email or phone call.

LivelyLive!y uses sensors attached to movable objects around the home such as the refrigerator door and the front door to collect data on behavior patterns, detect abnormalities and alert caregivers.


CarePredict offers a wearable sensor called Tempo that tracks small changes in daily routines. Since the sensor is worn by the individual it has the ability to track the time spent doing certain activities such as laying down for an afternoon nap. If more time is spent doing this activity than normal it will alert a caregiver of a possible change in well-being.

Medical Alert Systems can also provide peace of mind but as with all purchases it is important to do your homework. An article in The Senior List entitled Medical Alert Systems: Everything You Need to Know offers some good advice.