Running Up New Times for Seniors

By Jean Sorenson

BJ McHugh stretches after a run. Photo by: Jean Sorenson
Betty Jean “BJ” McHugh challenges today’s concept of aging and the elderly. The 84-year-old North Vancouver running legend, dubbed the fastest senior in the world, has just finished the James Cunningham Seawall 9.5-kilometre road race clocking in at 62 minutes. 

“I thought it was a terrible time,” says BJ, who has been running since her 50s and has set some 30 world records for marathons, half-marathons, and shorter races. But, the time was good enough to earn her first place in the age-graded runners’ category. She acknowledges that age has taken its toll on her times. She once ran the 9.5 kilometre James Cunningham Seawall Race - a favourite with runners in Halloween costumes - in 43 minutes and 52 seconds in 1979, three days before her 52nd birthday. 

But as she runs - with other elite senior runners such as the 100-year-old Fauja Singh, who holds world records for his age category in eight different distances, including the Toronto Marathon, and Vancouver’s 74-year-old Rod Waterlow who ran the Vancouver 2011 Fall Classic half-marathon in one hour and 46 minutes - BJ makes society question seniors’ capabilities. And, opens new horizons. At age 80, she set a new world record at the 29th Royal Victoria Marathon. 

When she first started running, there were no age categories. Today, races have not only a winning time for the fastest runners, but runners are broken into age brackets of five or 10 years. In addition, runners are handicapped according to age using a computer formula, which determines overall performance. In the Cunningham race, BJ’s age-graded performance outranked more than 900 other racers that day putting her at the top of the podium.  

BJ’s “running times” are chronicled in a new book My Road to Rome co-authored by her and CBC reporter and runner Bob Nixon, who first met BJ three years ago when a note about her came into the television studio. He subsequently reported on her invitation by the Rome Marathon organizers to run the 26-mile course. 

“I could not get her out of my mind,” says Nixon, “not just because she was such a remarkably lively and fun person to interview, but also because I discovered that her world marathon record as an 80-year-old was faster than I had run the same course when I was in my 30s. I had never met anyone that age who was so fit.” 

The CBC story grew into a book that tells the life of BJ, who was born in the small village of Stanwood, Ontario. She grew up on a farm and recalls adventures such as horse-drawn sled rides in winter to her grandparents’ home at Christmas, and follows her dream of nursing to a Toronto school. After graduation in Toronto, she moved to Vancouver to work as a nurse, where she met her husband Robert, a car salesman, who landed in her hospital ward.

BJ laughs because she is not the only nurse to meet her husband as a patient. One day, while working out at the gym, a nurse stopped by to tell her how much she had enjoyed the book. “We both have something in common,” quipped the nurse. “We both met our husbands in bed.” 

BJ’s story is full of urban family life - such as the rigours of manually defrosting fridges, sewing new dresses for social events and the kids, seeing her daughter Jennifer off to sporting events, swim meets, training sessions and finally the 1972 Olympics, and outfitting the family for skiing trips to the North Shore mountains. BJ’s recounts are far from dull as she delves into the fabric of life. Nixon says she describes those new ski pants of the ‘70s as “so tight that if a woman put a dime in the pocket you could tell if it was head or tails” and “the whole book is dotted with such McHugh gems.” 

Throughout the story, her four children and husband are focal points of her life. But, after finding tennis hard on the body, unable to ski during summer and with the children flying from the nest, she sought out a new sport - running. It turned into a passion and led to record-smashing performances.       

Today, BJ says she never set out to smash any records, although the records started falling as she entered races. She continues to run for the pure joy of the sport and, along the way, has developed a group of friends that are as foundational as her sneakers. She doesn’t wear a runner’s watch but marks time with a stopwatch, nor does she worry about pace or the distance she has run. She also doesn’t use a heart monitor. “I know my body,” she says, adding that really is what she listens to when she is running in or out of a race. 

She also doesn’t follow a special diet, like many runners who are vegans or vegetarians, nor takes dietary supplements. Instead, she cooks regular meals, although she does watch what she eats, especially near a race date; she suffers from a mild form of irritated bowel syndrome. Her big meal is breakfast - fruit, oatmeal and a bagel.    

Regularly running with a group of women starting out at around 6 a.m. three times a week for an hour, she runs a fourth, longer run on Saturday mornings and can last up to three-and-a-half hours, if a marathon is beckoning. She cross-trains with cycling, lifts weights in the gym, and practises yoga.  

BJ credits her group of friends - all younger - as her inspiration. Having younger friends is important as one ages, she feels, as they keep her active. “It’s hard to stay in bed when you have friends waiting - even if it is raining outside,” she says. They also provide a source of energy, optimism and humour. 

At the crack of dawn, they are a noticeable crowd, chattering down the street. She tells of one North Vancouver resident, who obviously rolled out of the wrong side of the bed to set out his garbage, turning to the noisy group and said: “Why don’t you girls shut up!” Then, there was the morning when an owl swooped down and tried to wing off with the ponytail of a running buddy.   

The group works as a team planning events, booking hotels and airfare. “I’m really quite spoiled,” says BJ about the group cheering her accomplishments at events. But, they celebrate their victories together. “Thirteen of us ran the [2011] Chicago Marathon,” she says, adding that all completed the course to take home finisher’s medals. 

BJ has not come through the record books unscathed. Husband Robert, long a support member for her and friends at the events, and the family’s main breadwinner, fell 23 years ago on a sidewalk curb, hit his head and sustained brain trauma. Through his decline into dementia, and financial difficulties, BJ tells in her book how she continues to run and stay by the side of the man she calls “the great love of my life.” 

BJ has also sustained numerous injuries: she once tripped over her dog as it darted out to catch a squirrel and injured her shoulder, which required surgery. Her running buddies came to the rescue during her convalescence and ran over dinners for her and Robert, adding the occasional bottle of wine. What comes from BJ’s life is not being down, but getting back up.    

As she ages, BJ continues to open new doors for runners, as race organizers have to add new age categories to accommodate more seniors entering road racing. Nixon says that what has intrigued him as a journalist in his 50s about BJ is her “secret” to aging as he found himself facing that “slippery slope” of declining health expected in old age. But, here is BJ healthy at 80. And she doesn’t see any mystical fountain of youth; running is part of her active lifestyle. Her book sets out 10 life lessons in the last chapter, including “think young” and “don’t just get into shape - BE in shape by being active.”    

She plans to take that perspective into the Honolulu Marathon in December 2012. She has two daughters, Jennifer (the Olympic swimmer) and Jillian, and two sons, Brent and Gyle. They all run or have run, but son Brent competes in marathons. 
“My granddaughter Ava wants us to do a three-generation run in Honolulu,” says BJ, an event that takes place a month after her 85th birthday.

BJ’s optimistic she will make it, but quips, “At my age, you don’t buy green bananas.”


Home Care Assistance offers the highest quality 24/7 live-in home care in the Region of Halton (Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, and Milton), Region of Peel (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon), Hamilton and surrounding areas.

Study Shows Caregiving is One of the Most Stressful Occupations

A recent study has confirmed what many of us already know: that caregiving is one of the most stressful occupations in North America.  This study found that caregivers are the third most stressed group in America behind the obese and the depressed.  Coincidentally, these are two issues that many caregivers are at risk for; this only amplifies the already high stress level of caregivers.
“Caregivers are not only more likely to report stress than other groups; they also report it at higher levels,” said senior editor Paul Spencer Scott. “Caregivers are more likely than the general public to have a chronic illness (82 percent vs. 61 percent) and to rate their own health as fair or poor (34 percent vs. 20 percent). Caregivers also appear to manage stress in less healthy ways than the general population. Caregivers are twice as likely, for example, to report smoking to manage their stress (20 percent vs. 10 percent).”
It is more important now than ever to take time out of your day to takes steps toward protecting one’s health and avoiding caregiver burnout.  The ability to provide care to another individual is an invaluable service to society, but the caregiver and their patient’s health need to be of equal importance.
Other interesting findings garnered from this report are that people still refuse to accept how stress affects their daily lives.  Nearly one third of those polled do not believe that stress affects their physical or mental health.  Tests have proven that the truth is quite the opposite; reduction of stress is a major step towards a healthier lifestyle.

Home Care Assistance offers the highest quality 24/7 live-in home care in the Region of Halton (Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, and Milton), Region of Peel (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon), Hamilton and surrounding areas.

Chronic illnesses, not age, determine seniors' reliance on health care: Study


It's their health, not the age of Canadian seniors that is the main factor when determining the number of medical services they use, according to a report that examines the elderly population's reliance on the health-care system.
"In society, many of us may expect that with age comes chronic conditions but this isn't the case. It became apparent that it's the number of chronic conditions that seniors have, not their increasing age, that drives their health-care utilization," said Greg Webster, director of primary health care for the Canadian Institute for Health Information, which released the report Thursday.
"Once people get to three or more chronic conditions, their quality of life deteriorates and their use of health care goes through the roof."
About 1.1 million Canadian seniors are living with at least three chronic conditions, such as diabeteshigh blood pressurearthritis or cancer. The group accounted for 40 per cent of the health care used by seniors, according to the CIHI study.
Healthy seniors — that is, those without such ongoing conditions, who were at least 85 years old, made fewer than half the number of visits to doctors' offices as younger seniors who had many chronic illnesses, though, Webster said.
CIHI collaborated with the Health Council of Canada and Statistics Canada to design the study, which examined the prevalence of 11 chronic illnesses in seniors and the kind of services they needed. The most common chronic illnesses among seniors were high blood pressure, which affects two million seniors, followed by arthritis, which affects 1.2 million seniors.
According to previous CIHI research, health care for a senior between 65 and 69 years old costs $5,828; for a senior 70 to 74 years old, the average cost is $8,803; and for seniors 70 to 79 years old, the cost is $10,989 on average. About $18,160 is spent on each senior who is more than 80 years old.
But it's the chronic illnesses — with their most common forms, such as Type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis, appearing between the ages of 50 and 60 — that make up a big chunk of that spending, said Dr. Bill Hogg, a University of Ottawa professor and research director at the university's Elisabeth Bruyere Research Institute.
Similar patterns of health care exist among adults between 45 and 64 years old. Unhealthy middle-aged Canadians with three or more chronic conditions made six times more visits to the doctor's office, hospital or emergency room than their peers without health conditions, the report showed. About half of Canadians in this age group have at least one chronic condition already.
Hogg said that as the large group of baby boomers ages in Canada, cases of chronic illness in seniors will climb, increasing the burden provincial health-care systems already face.
"People are concerned about the cost implications and about the amount of disability and suffering as projections are that the number of people living with these diseases will increase dramatically. They're all quite significant (diseases), they're not just minor lashes, but they've become a reality today," he said, noting that some Canadian seniors are dealing with a combination of six or more chronic illnesses.
The report recommends that doctors and patients of all ages make maintaining good health and regular exercise a priority to reduce the risk of chronic conditions.
"We shouldn't accept that it's going to be this way," Webster said.
The study suggested only two in five seniors said they had talked to their doctors about what they could do to improve their health: from quitting smoking, exercising more and drinking less alcohol.
"If we take better care, seniors would be healthier and happier and they'd need less health care, leading to a more sustainable system," Webster said.
In 2008, seniors consumed almost 44 per cent of all provincial and territorial government health spending, although they only comprised about 14 per cent of the population, he said.
Handling comorbidity — the accumulation of chronic diseases — results in frequent appointments with doctors and specialists, Hogg said.
Seniors with three or more conditions were making three times more health-care visits than their healthy peers, the report suggested. A patient with three conditions would visit a doctor at least once a month while a healthy 30-year-old man would probably visit the doctor once every five years, Hogg said.
The seniors also reported taking an average of six prescription drugs regularly, which also concerned the researchers.
Hogg said the usage of multiple drugs to reduce or to treat symptoms is "not trivial" as some seniors who were routinely taking multiple medications reported side-effects that were so severe, they needed medical attention. Hogg said the side effects could be minor to very serious, from a dry mouth or nausea to allergic reactions that can led to trouble breathing.
The highest percentage of seniors with chronic illnesses was recorded in Newfoundland and Labrador, where 85 per cent of seniors had at least one chronic illness while the lowest was Quebec, followed by British Columbia and Ontario, the report suggested.

Home Care Assistance offers the highest quality 24/7 live-in home care in the Region of Halton (Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, and Milton), Region of Peel (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon), Hamilton and surrounding areas.

Five Reasons to Fit Fruit into Your Day

(NC)—Wise food choices and regular exercise are steps in the right direction when it comes to improving our overall health. However, one of the easiest (and tastiest) means of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is being ignored. While Health Canada recommends consuming between seven and ten servings of fruits and vegetables a day, Statistics Canada research shows that less than half of Canadians are even making it to five. “We’re taught from childhood that fruit is good for you,” says registered dietitian Lydia Knorr. “Yet even Canadians who are moving towards healthier diets and more active lives aren’t making room on their plates for those recommended servings.”
Incorporating Florida citrus into daily snacks and meals is a simple way to get to that recommended intake. For example, at breakfast time, one 250 mL glass of 100 per cent pure Florida orange or grapefruit juice equates to two servings.
Need a reason to sack the sweets in favour of citrus? Here are five:
1. Health helper—Give your body a boost with a tasty grapefruit. Florida citrus contains essential vitamins, minerals and fibre, all of which may aid in the prevention of disease.
2. Family-friendly—Florida citrus can be packed in lunches or used in grown-up foods like marinades or glazes. For parents looking to make sure kids are getting their vitamins, a fruity treat is a great way to keep them energized without having to hide the healthy stuff.
3. Guilt-free goodness—Say goodbye to eater’s remorse: citrus fruit is light and healthy and can help you maintain a weight you’ll feel positive about.
4. Quick and cost-effective—Your grocery budget may be shrinking, but your appetite doesn’t have to. Drinking a glass of 100 per cent pure orange juice is convenient, inexpensive and filling compared to other beverages like pop or punch—and it’s healthier too.
5. Sweetest snack—Throw those candies away and start fresh with a snack that’s naturally sweet. Fruit can be incorporated into other snacks for diet variety. For example, add some 100 per cent pure orange juice into a smoothie or fresh Florida grapefruit slices into loaves or muffins.
Replacing high-calorie candies and fatty snacks with fresh fruit doesn’t have to mean compromising on cost or taste,” says Knorr. “Fruit like grapefruit not only helps you look and feel great, but also delivers when the sweet tooth hits.”
Visit for fun and delicious ways to help you get your five a day. 
Home Care Assistance offers the highest quality 24/7 live-in home care in the Region of Halton (Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, and Milton), Region of Peel (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon), Hamilton and surrounding areas.

Seniors Weigh in on Living Life Without Regrets

Life’s biggest questions are naturally the hardest to answer, and if you choose the wrong action you could end up regretting it in the long run.  We all hope to live with no regrets, but for many, this is not the case.  Thankfully, Karl Pillemer of Cornell compiled a list of life’s greatest trials and sought out advice from people who have already made their life changing decisions and lived with their results.  These people, of course, are our elders.  As they say, another year older, another year wiser.
On Regrets – The seniors questioned on how to avoid regret came to a consensus on two major points.  First, always be honest while taking advantage of new opportunities and embracing challenges.  It is impossible to regret something if you did everything within your power to accomplish it.  Second, try to travel as much as possible.  Most seniors believe that this should take precedent over many other things young people spend money on.
On Happiness – Happiness is a choice and not a culmination of positive or negative circumstances life throws at you.  You may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can always control how you react to it.
On Marriage – While love can initially bring people together, a lasting friendship and complementing qualities will build a lasting relationship.  As one 89-year-old woman put it, “too many young people are giving up too early, too soon.”
On Careers – Out of the seniors polled on careers, not one said that they achieved happiness by working in a profession they did not like for a big paycheck at the end of the day.  As one 83-year-old former athlete and recruiter put it, “the most important thing is to be involved in a profession that you absolutely love and that you look forward to going to work every day.”
On Parenting – It is important to spend more time with your children despite whatever busy work schedule you may have.  Sacrifices may have to be made along the way, but spending time with your children should come before your career.
Click here to read more life tips from our wise elders.

Home Care Assistance offers the highest quality 24/7 live-in home care in the Region of Halton (Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, and Milton), Region of Peel (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon), Hamilton and surrounding areas.

Andropause (male menopause)

"Male menopause" is a rather inaccurate but popular term used to describe the symptoms of low testosterone levels in older men, which is called andropause. As men age, levels of testosterone can drop by as much as 50%. Other terms for the same condition include male menopause, male climacteric, viropause, and PADAM (Partial Androgen Deficiency in Aging Men, sometimes shortened to ADAM).

What does testosterone do?

Although many people are aware of its important role in maintaining muscle strength and sexual function in men, testosterone also has important effects on the brain, skin, liver, kidneys, blood, bones, heart, cholesterol levels, and the prostate.
The pituitary gland in the brain controls the release of testosterone in the testicles. The pituitary gland first produces the hormones leutinizing hormone (LH) andfollicle stimulating hormone (FSH). These hormones travel through the bloodstream to the testicles, where they stimulate the testicles to produce both testosterone and sperm.
Andropause may be diagnosed when there is a low level of testosterone in the blood, symptoms of testosterone deficiency, and improvement of those symptoms when testosterone replacement is taken. There are many potential causes of testosterone deficiency, so it is important to determine the exact cause of testosterone deficiency and determine which therapy is appropriate.

Richard A. Bebb, MD
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team 
Home Care Assistance offers the highest quality 24/7 live-in home care in the Region of Halton (Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, and Milton), Region of Peel (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon), Hamilton and surrounding areas.

Seniors in hospital beds costly for health system

It is estimated that caring for a senior in the community costs about one-quarter of caring for the same person in hospital.

Posted: Dec 1, 2011 3:00 PM ET 

Last Updated: Dec 1, 2011 3:59 PM ET 

It is estimated that caring for a senior in the community costs about one-quarter of caring for the same person in hospital. Mark Baker/Associated Press

Canadian seniors account for 85 per cent of patients in hospital beds who could be receiving care elsewhere, a problem that will only grow as the first baby boomers turn 65 this year, according to a new report.
Thursday's report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information called Health Care in Canada, 2011: A Focus on Seniors and Aging, examines how seniors use the health system and where there’s room for improvement.
For example, 47 per cent of seniors have completed their hospital treatment but remain in an acute-care hospital because they're waiting to be moved to a long-term care facility such as a nursing home or to rehab or home with support (so-called "alternate level of care" patients.)
Those patients have a ripple effect on the rest of a hospital, said Dr. Jeff Turnbull, chief of staff of the Ottawa Hospital.
"The delays of getting into the hospital delays, of getting timely surgery diagnostics, all are affected by our that fact that we have so many people sitting in our acute-care beds," said Turnbull.
Last year, those ripples meant the hospital had to cancel 600 elective surgeries, he said.
Currently, seniors represent 14 per cent of the population, but they use 40 per cent of hospital services and account for about 45 per cent of health spending of provincial and territorial government, the report's authors found.
For hospitals, an acute-care bed costs about $1,100 a day. In comparison, Turnbull estimated it costs a quarter of that to care for the same senior in the community.
The goal for governments should be to spend money on the right services so more seniors can stay at home and out of hospital longer, said Kathleen Morris, CIHI's director of health system analysis.
Those services include traditional health-care services such as nursing and physiotherapy as well as transportation or help with household chores to help the 93 per cent of seniors who live at home, Morris said.
Ensuring continuity of care for seniors across the health care system could potentially lead to better care and better quality of life, health policy researcher Marcus Hollander in Victoria said, commenting on the report.
The report's authors pointed to efficient use of new technologies such as:
  • A medication monitoring system equipped with a sensor to allow family members to use online video clips to monitor which medications were taken for seniors receiving home-care services.
  • Magnetic door sensors that send an email, text message or cell phone message to caregivers if a person with dementia goes outside unattended.
  • Flexible bed mats with pressure sensors that let caregivers know when their family member has woken up and is moving.
The report also included chapters on seniors' use of prescription drugs and caring for seniors in the community or in residential care.
With files from CBC's Susan Lunn 
Home Care Assistance offers the highest quality 24/7 live-in home care in the Region of Halton (Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, and Milton), Region of Peel (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon), Hamilton and surrounding areas.

New Study: Seniors Need Better Dental Health Care

By Charmaine Gooden
Seniors in Ontario, especially women, are not visiting the dentist regularly, increasing their risk of developing serious oral health and chronic illnesses, says a study released by Women’s College Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES). The study shows that 45% of Ontarians 65 years and older did not see a dentist in the last year. This seems to be a greater challenge for who make up the major portion of Ontario’s senior population. Tooth decay and gum disease have been linked to an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, bone loss, and even some types of cancer. Regular dental checkups may reveal early warning signs of many diseases. Even though Canada has universal healthcare, dental visits are not covered by the government.
“Poor oral health can contribute to many serious medical conditions and affect a person’s ability to chew and digest food properly, leading to inadequate nutrition,” explains Dr. Arlene Bierman, principal investigator of the study. “With dental services not covered under our universal health-insurance program and many older adults not visiting dentists regularly, the findings suggest we need to rethink the services we provide to help keep seniors healthy as they age.” Researchers suggested that more preventative methods be made to ensure that the older population is getting the dental attention they need. 
Home Care Assistance offers the highest quality 24/7 live-in home care in the Region of Halton (Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, and Milton), Region of Peel (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon), Hamilton and surrounding areas.

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