Senior Toronto blog

April 30, 2024

Medical escorts

Has this ever happened to you? You get scheduled for surgery, and then they tell you that when it’s time to go home, someone has to come right into the medical facility to get you, escort you home, and then go into your home with you to make sure you’re settled. You have to tell the medical facility the person’s name and contact information. If you can’t provide this, your surgery will be cancelled. But you live alone and don’t have anyone to pick you up. What are you supposed to do?

This requirement rules out the transportation services most of us use. You can’t call a taxi or book WheelTrans or any of the Toronto Ride affiliates, because their drivers have to wait for you outside. What other options are there?

Some community service agencies offer a program called Home at Last, which provides precisely this service. But there aren’t many of them, and some operate only within a specific catchment area. Examples of agencies offering Home at Last include CANES Community Care, Lumacare, Transcare Community Support Services and West Neighbourhood House. Red Cross Transportation Services will try to find a driver / escort for you if you give them a lot of notice, and they cover rides anywhere within Toronto city limits. Some service organizations, for example Woodgreen, provide medical escorts, but you must arrange your own transportation. There are also some companies you can hire for this service. I found a couple through Google, but don’t know anything about them and can’t vouch for them. Examples include C-Care Health Services and The Care Company.

If this service is so important that our surgery can be cancelled without it, then we shouldn’t be left scrambling. This is a broken link in our healthcare system.

March 29, 2024

It's playtime

The daily news is dreadful, our memory is full of holes, our old bones ache, our friends are all sick. These days it’s sometimes hard to get out of bed. Wouldn’t it be great to escape real life for a while and get wrapped up in an activity that’s just plain fun? How about doing something not because it’s good for us, but for the pure joy of it?

Why not try video games? They’re not just for kids. You can go exploring, have adventures, build whole worlds. You can play on your own, or with strangers, friends, or even your grandchildren (won’t they be impressed!). I’ve tried to come up with a starter set of game titles. I picked games that had little or no violence, or at least let you decide how much there will be. If you want violent games you don’t need help from me, they’re easy to find. But the ones I chose focus on adventure, puzzles, problem-solving, simulation, strategy. They all can work on an ordinary desktop or laptop or cellphone. They’re free or inexpensive. Some of them have a bit of a learning curve, but that’s okay, you want a game with some depth. I researched these as best I could, but I haven’t played them, so do your own research too.

If you’re interested in any of these games and want to know if you can run them on your own computer or phone, just go here or here and type in the name of the game.


  • You’re a diver, exploring the sea
  • Single player
  • Costs under $30 Canadian

Candy Crush Saga

  • Tile-matching puzzle game
  • Single player
  • Free

Forge of Empires

  • Build an empire, starting with Stone Age huts
  • Single player or multiplayer
  • Free


  • Each player becomes the leader of a civilization, taking your tribe from the Stone Age to the Space Age
  • Single player or multiplayer
  • Free

Gone Home

  • Solve a mystery as you walk through an abandoned house
  • Single player
  • Costs under $20 Canadian


  • You can do whatever you want: build things, explore the world, face daring challenges
  • Single player or multiplayer
  • Costs about $40 Canadian

Outer Wilds

  • Puzzles to solve as you explore space
  • Single player
  • Costs under $35 Canadian

Sims 4

  • A life simulation game. You create virtual people, place them in homes and build their lives
  • Single player
  • Free

Stardew Valley

  • You’ve inherited an old farm. Learn farming, make it thrive, join the neighbouring community
  • Single player or multiplayer
  • Costs under $20 Canadian

The Talos Principle

  • Puzzles with a philosophical flavour
  • Single player
  • Costs under $40 Canadian

February 29, 2024

Normal aging

It seems like every other day my body comes up with some new problem. And every time it happens, I wonder whether I should go to the doctor, or whether it’s just another symptom of normal aging. How am I supposed to know? I’ve never been old before. I wish I had a tricorder like the medical officers on Star Trek had. They’d just swipe it over the patient and get an instant diagnosis. Failing that, I thought I’d check out what the experts tell us to expect. I’ve pulled this together using reliable sources, like MedlinePlus, the Mayo Clinic and the Merck Manual. It’s a long list, but if you’re a senior, you probably won’t be surprised. This is not a formula; different changes happen to different people at different times. Many age-related changes creep up slowly. Whatever changes you’re going through, remember that there’s a lot you can do to mitigate many of them and go on enjoying your life.

Bones and joints

  • Bones become less dense, leading to osteopenia and osteoporosis, risk of fractures
  • Vertebrae become less dense, making the spine shorter
  • Cartilage thins, leading to osteoarthritis
  • Ligaments become weaker and more rigid, making us less flexible
  • Exercise; take vitamin D and dietary calcium

Brain and nervous system

  • Blood flow to the brain decreases
  • Reaction time slows
  • Vocabulary, short-term memory, the ability to multitask, learn new material, and recall words may be reduced
  • Balance is compromised by changes in the inner ear
  • Some red flags for dementia are the inability to learn and retain new information; the inability to complete tasks you are familiar with; disorientation in time or place
  • Don’t worry too much about forgetfulness if it is not interfering with your daily life
  • Stay mentally and socially active; challenge yourself

Digestive system

  • Digestive process slows, sometimes leading to constipation
  • Increased likelihood of developing lactose intolerance
  • Liver may be less able to remove drugs from the body; drug effects last longer
  • We may react differently to medications, may need lower doses
  • Eat a healthy high-fibre diet; exercise


  • Reduced perception of high-pitched sounds
  • Trouble hearing in groups or loud environments with background noise
  • Have your hearing checked periodically

Endocrine system

  • Insulin production diminishes and is less effective, increasing the risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
  • Have regular blood tests


  • Reduced near vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Need for brighter light
  • Changes in colour perception
  • Cataracts
  • Floaters
  • Dry eye
  • Schedule regular checkups; test for glaucoma and macular degeneration

Heart and blood vessels

  • Blood vessels stiffen, making the heart pump harder
  • Buildup of plaque in artery walls, obstructing blood flow
  • Blood pressure tends to increase
  • Eat a healthy low-sodium, cholesterol-lowering diet; manage stress; get enough sleep
  • Maintain regular aerobic activity, even just brisk walking

Immune system

  • Immune system acts more slowly
  • Cancer is more common among seniors
  • Vaccines are less protective
  • Infections like pneumonia and influenza are more common and more severe among seniors
  • Get all the regular vaccines

Kidneys and urinary tract

  • Bladder can hold less urine, resulting in more frequent urination
  • Urinary sphincter is less able to close tightly, sometimes leading to urgency or incontinence
  • In men, prostate gland may enlarge and obstruct the flow of urine
  • Do Kegel exercises

Lungs and the muscles of breathing

  • Breathing muscles weaken
  • Lungs become less elastic, deliver less oxygen
  • Exercising may be more difficult
  • Lungs become less able to fight infection
  • Try to build up endurance gradually through exercise

Mouth and nose

  • Reduced ability to taste and smell
  • Dry mouth
  • Receding gums
  • Nose lengthens and enlarges
  • Schedule regular dental checkups; brush and floss twice a day

Muscles and body fat

  • Muscle mass, strength, stamina and flexibility decrease
  • Percentage of body fat increases, fat distribution changes
  • Diet and exercise can minimize effects


  • Skin loses underlying fat, becomes thinner, drier, less elastic, more wrinkled
  • Reduced sensitivity to pain, pressure, temperature
  • Number of sweat glands and blood vessels decreases, making the body less able to cool itself
  • Increased risk of heat-related disorders
  • Skin bruises more easily, heals more slowly
  • Less protection against ultraviolet radiation; age spots
  • Use sunscreen, mild soap, moisturizers


  • Sleep becomes fragmented
  • It may take longer to fall asleep, and seniors sleep more lightly, awakening more in the night
  • Don’t eat, drink or exercise within two to three hours before bedtime
  • Follow a regular bedtime routine

January 29, 2024


Last summer, after a routine blood test, I learned that my blood sugar had gone up into the prediabetic range. I was surprised, because I thought that my diet was pretty healthy. But I sure didn’t want to add diabetes to my growing list of ailments. So I cut out white carbs, starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn, cheese, and anything with added sugar. I discovered chickpea pasta, farro and yu choy, stopped feeling hungry between meals and lost five pounds. Now my bad numbers are going back down.

When younger people get prediabetes, it’s a red flag. They have to make lifestyle changes, or they’re on their way to diabetes. But when seniors get prediabetes, it’s a different story. Guess what proportion of seniors have prediabetes: it’s 48.8%. That’s right: almost half of us. And it happens even to seniors who exercise regularly and eat healthy diets. That’s because many seniors produce less insulin and process it less efficiently than younger people. But we’re not at the same risk as younger people of going on to develop diabetes. A recent study of seniors with prediabetes showed that, over a 12-year period, most of the study subjects remained stable or reverted to normal. In fact, more people regressed back to normal than proceeded to diabetes. If you would rather read a layman’s version of the study, check out this New York Times article. But prediabetes still increases the risk of heart disease, and it may progress to diabetes in some seniors. So if we’re given a diagnosis of prediabetes, we probably shouldn’t blame ourselves for negligence, but we should keep exercising and maintaining a healthy diet.

It's simply a fact of life in old age: we have to keep pedalling faster just to stay in place.

December 29, 2023


I’m enrolled in a research project involving cardiac rehab patients. I had to fill out a detailed questionnaire about my sleep habits, diet and mental health. The researchers also sent me a simple pedometer, and asked me to record my steps every day for seven days. I stared at the number for the day and had no idea what it meant. Was it high? Low? Average for my age? I normally do a 20 to 30 minute aerobics video every morning, rotating through a dozen or so that I have bookmarked. The next day, I decided to add an extra 10-minute routine, just to see what difference it made. To my surprise, my total was lower than on the day before. That really got me wondering. What does a pedometer measure? What good is the information? Is it a useful tool for seniors?

I started watching the pedometer while I did my aerobics routines. It worked fine when I was stepping forward or back. But most other moves, like step-touch, grapevine and hamstring curls, didn’t register at all. A simple pedometer measures only regular steps, one foot in front of the other as we shift our weight from side to side. We could be working full tilt doing weight training, balance routines, yoga, chair exercises, cycling or aquafit, and the pedometer would think we were taking a nap. Many of us seniors have mobility issues that restrict our walking, like spinal stenosis, hip or knee arthritis, balance disorders or neurological problems. So we can’t walk as much as younger people, and our fitness routines often include many modalities besides walking. That’s why researchers have not been able to set meaningful step-count standards for seniors: they’re not a reliable indicator of our activity levels, and generic goals may not be achievable for many of us.

So what good is a pedometer for seniors? I can think of two worthwhile applications. It’s still useful to measure walking. Walking is not just another exercise move: it’s an essential life skill. We want to be able to go shopping, go to the park, meet friends at a restaurant. No matter what our health issues are, we want to push ourselves to do as much walking as we can. A pedometer is excellent for this. We can use the numbers to compete against ourselves, see if we can up the stats just a little bit. But we have to make sure we don’t overemphasize walking to the detriment of other forms of exercise, just because walking is easy to measure. We need to maintain a balanced program.

A pedometer can also be useful simply as an activity motivator, encouraging us to raise our numbers. We tend to get more sedentary as we age, and may underestimate how much time we spend just sitting there. Too much sedentary time is dangerous for us. This issue is now beginning to be addressed in fitness guidelines for seniors, for example the ones from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. I think guidelines like these are the best way to monitor our overall activity, and the pedometer can be added in as a handy little prod, reminding us to get off the couch.

November 30, 2023

Decluttering for seniors

After my mother died, it fell to me to clear out the house she had lived in for over fifty years. All the cupboards and drawers were crammed full of paper: utility bills, drugstore coupons and greeting cards going back to the 1950s. The bedroom cupboards were full of ratty, worn-out clothes. My parents simply never threw anything out. At first I was appalled. Then I had to confront the fact that apparently neither of them was capable of making the simplest decision about what was valuable and what was not. Finally came the anger, that they knowingly left this mess for their daughter to clean up. It took me months to finish the job, and the experience tarnished my memories of my parents ever after.

So there’s the first good reason to declutter your home: so you don’t dump a big job that’s really your responsibility onto someone else. Don’t leave it to family members, no matter how you feel about them, and don’t leave it to your executor. You don’t want to be remembered as a deadbeat. It’s worthwhile to declutter no matter what your future plans may be. If you’re planning to move into a smaller home, you’ll be ready to roll. If you’re not planning to move, your home will be more spacious, safer and easier to clean. You’ll get a demanding, stressful task out of the way while you can still handle it yourself. And once you’ve gotten rid of things you no longer need, what’s left will be the things that really matter.

So why haven’t you done it already? Well, there’s no question that decluttering is a daunting task. It can be physically demanding: crawling around on the floor, reaching up to high shelves, packing, moving boxes and disposing of them. It’s emotionally demanding too. That stuff is the story of our lives. As we handle our belongings, they will evoke powerful memories. We may find ourselves less and less mobile over time, and take comfort from having our familiar things around us, to help us feel secure, so it may be hard to let them go. The task can seem overwhelming. It takes motivation, stamina, self-discipline and organizational skills. But we have to do it anyway, because we’re not deadbeats.

Luckily, there are lots of guides and checklists to help us declutter our homes, for example here and here. Read through them, make a plan, go slowly. Start small, maybe focussing on an area with no sentimental baggage, like the bathroom. Take time to reminisce. Take pictures of important items or make a journal. If you have valuable items you want to keep, add a memorandum to list them in your will, so your executor knows who they should go to, and there won’t be squabbles. Get help from family, friends or professionals if you need to.

Decluttering is hard work, but it can be liberating. It’s part of healthy aging: letting go of what no longer serves us, and focussing on the life we’re living now.