Sunday, 12 August 2018


This afternoon I pulled our daughter close in a long embrace as I whispered "goodbye, I love you". Natalie and her partner Alex were with us for a week at the cottage. Watching the sunset from the sofa at the lake, I massaged her feet. I made her favourite spice cake for dessert after a gigantic 'seven layer salad' - a special summer tradition in our family. And our Natalie loves tradition. We cooed over old LPs, my high school yearbooks, tin boxes of buttons collected by my mother in law.... and of course we played cribbage. 

I realized something about myself - I deeply enjoy caring for the people I love. And caring for Natalie, who doesn't really 'need' care is soothing for me. It is a form of self-care for me. There is such delight in offering comfort food, in morning and nighttime hugs and in late afternoon chats about future planning. Caring for someone who doesn't absolutely 'need' care is a form of respite. This past week has given me so much energy and love for whatever is next in my life. Aren't love and care two wonderful things when freely given and gratefully received? And I've been reflecting on the (nuanced) contrasting satisfaction I feel when I'm caring for my Mom or when I used to do full-on care for Nick. Care can be described so differently depending on the person and on the relationship. They say that the indigenous people of the north have 33 different words for snow. Maybe we should have 33 words for caregiving - or at least a different one for each member of our families. 

Care is complicated and simple all at once. Today, the sun is shining and I'll just let my heart be happy and full as I begin to plan the next visit with our daughter. 

Monday, 6 August 2018

Beyond Good Intentions; Towards A Good Life

An Open Letter to Rachel Adam-Smith and her Social Worker

When did we stop believing that ‘It takes a village to raise a child’? When did asking fellow community members for assistance in special needs parenting (or any parenting) become a potentially harmful act? And why would a social worker believe that a mother asking for the support she needs to keep her daughter safe is a demonstration of irresponsible parenting?

Rachel Adam-Smith is a UK blogger who is also a law student, patient with congenital heart disease, the daughter of a mother who has muscular sclerosis and she is the mother of a 15 year old daughter who has severe disabilities including autism.

Recently, Adam-Smith penned a blog post describing how the social worker assigned to her case did not believe she should seek assistance from strangers when her daughter became physically unmanageable during emotional meltdowns that occurred in public. The social worker maintained that Adam-Smith’s daughter might not understand that talking to strangers is a bad thing. Rachel Adam-Smith is a petite person with a serious heart condition. She is a single mother. She is economically isolated. When Adam-Smith’s daughter has a meltdown, she falls to the ground or tries to run away (including into traffic). She is always with her daughter when she asks others for help.

What are we to make of the idea that seeking emergency assistance from neighbours or community members is innately dangerous? Should we conclude that it’s equally risky to offer help to a vulnerable person who is clearly in distress?

I speak as the mother of a young man with severe disabilities. Cormac Russell is the Managing Director of Nurture Development and a leader in asset-based community development. Here’s what Cormac and I would say to Rachel Adam-Smith and to her social worker:

Dear Rachel Adam-Smith:
You are not alone. In your community, there are many people who want only the best for you and for your daughter. They would like to help you – not only in times of crisis, but as loyal friends and supporters. The next time you ask for assistance from a stranger (and we hope you will continue to do this, because it is the safe and sensible action to take and we believe your instincts and experience will guide your choices), ask if the stranger would like to join you for coffee. Ask if you might drop off a thank you gift at their place of employment. Or ask whether you could write a note of appreciation to their employer praising the stranger’s kindness and character. Look for opportunities to transform the kindness of strangers into authentic friendships. After all, no one knows better than parents of vulnerable children that it is our caring relationships that keep our children safe and secure.

With very best wishes and gratitude for caring members of your community, who extend a hand of help and kindness,
Donna and Cormac

Dear Social Worker:
You are doing your best to help Rachel Adam-Smith and her daughter. You are trying to keep them safe according to all you’ve been taught in your field of study and work. We believe that your advice to Ms. Adam-Smith reveals a problem with the way we think about ‘help’ and ‘safety’ in our society. We would like to propose an alternative way of thinking.

Traditionally, help is thought of as keeping people out of harms way, and safety is understood as preventing bad things happening. This mind-set is so endemic in Western culture that these ways of thinking have become certainties. We no longer question them.

But question them we must. Because when our efforts to keep people safe actually separate them from natural support networks and make them less autonomous and more dependent on salaried strangers, those efforts to help can become counterproductive and harmful.

In other words our efforts to help can produce the opposite of what we intend; they make people more unsafe, not safer.

The question then, is how do we make that shift from risk aversion to liberation? For Social Work as a profession there are four necessary changes in our opinion:

1.     Shift the profession en mass towards Community Social Work and away from Case Management Social Work. Measure success on the basis of how interdependent at the centre of their communities the people who are being served have become, not how dependent on professional support, support that in reality is quite limited. And when that professional support ends, only the community remains (which is why we should focus on strengthening those ties for everyone, especially vulnerable people).
2.     Change what Social Workers are afraid of. We all carry some fear as professionals. So let’s make sure if we are going to live with that stress, we choose the right things to be afraid of. Fearing that I won’t meet my Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) this month. Or fearing the unpredictability that comes with the new relationships with individuals you serve when you work in a community way – these are counter-productive fears. They increase unhealthy stress within practitioners generally, and they stifle and disable those we serve. Useful stress comes with the fear of what might happen if I displace natural indigenous support in order to cover my back or meet my targets. Or if I make people dependent on a system that cannot provide ongoing love and mutuality without the hidden cost of unintended institutionalization and loss of autonomy. These are fears worth having, and they are real.
3.     Include Safety II thinking in how Social Workers are trained to think about and work with safety. Professionals in the field of Airport security are at the cutting edge in thinking about safety. They have identified two main ways that folks think about Safety. Safety I (the dominant way of thinking about safety) aims to stop bad things (things as imagined in the future) from happening. Safety II, aims to optimize the potential of good things happening based on what actually happens in the present and optimizing what’s strong not wrong from there. We need both, but our Social Workers and wider society need exposure to the Safety II mindset if we are to restore balance and common sense.
4.     Finally, we need to ask different questions. Instead of asking what will my intervention prevent, ask ‘what will it produce? What kind of person will be produced as a result of my advice or intervention? Systems could ask: What type of person does this ‘supposed’ productive process/advice, produce?’ We say ‘supposed’, because until we know the answer, we can’t know if its productive, non-productive or counter-productive

When institutions develop processes that degrade the human capacity, inventiveness and autonomy of a person/persons they serve, it is mostly done with good intentions. We must learn to become wary of Good Intentionsbecause as we all intuitively know, the road to a life of disconnection, loneliness and misplaced fear is paved with them, especially for those most vulnerable to not having their gifts recognized or received.

With best wishes and hope for a more community-based future for all,

Cormac and Donna

Thursday, 2 August 2018

When Equipment Can Help - How to Begin the Search


Older adults want to have the best quality of life after their retirement. And why shouldn’t they? Family caregivers deserve a good life, too.

Identifying the right kind of assistive care equipment is one way to ensure the quality of life that we all need and deserve. Whether you are at the beginning, the middle or near the end of your caregiving journey, Patient Handling Equipment items will make a significant difference in the quality of life for both caregiver and loved one.
Let’s take a look at some items that improve the life of seniors and their caregivers.

For Walking and Moving

We need to promote mobility in older people by providing them with high-quality equipment and ensuring that they can move freely and SAFELY whenever they like.

To facilitate the movement of older adults who may be experiencing mobility challenges, a cane, walker or a wheelchair could be the right product. If the person is experiencing weakness and having difficulty walking long distances, a wheelchair can come in handy for outings, even if her or she is still independently mobile at home. Mobility challenges can mean that an individual may need a variety of aids, depending on the environment. Seniors wishing to go shopping or explore the community may require a wheelchair, but once seated at a restaurant, can safely use a cane to visit the restroom. Older adults who resist using mobility aids can sometimes be persuaded to use them once they choose a colour or design. Some individuals even customize their equipment by adding decorative features that reflect their own style.


Seniors are more prone to falling as they age. A person can slip anytime, especially with the combination of muscle weakness and balance impairment. Medical alerts or alarms offer peace of mind for caregivers knowing that help is on its way in the event of a fall, anytime and anywhere.

Lift Recliner Chair

Remote control lift chairs help the user to sit or stand. Anyone who has difficulty transferring from sitting to standing will find that this type of chair enhances independence and it saves the caregiver’s back as well. Lift chairs today are attractive, can recline, or be used as normal armchairs for the rest of the family.

Lift chairs such as “Infinite Position Recliners”, “3-Position Recliners”, “Pop-Up Chairs”, or “Power Lift Recliners” all have different features and price points. Some even include massage and heating features. There are lots of options to meet individual needs and budgets.

Equipment to Relieve Pressure Sores

Constant friction or pressure can cause damage to the skin resulting in the formation of pressure sores. People who have limited mobility and spend longer periods in sitting or lying are more prone to this kind of skin damage. Special equipment such as alternating air pressure mattresses, gel pads and cushions can be used to prevent pressure sores.

If you are not sure what type of equipment you need at home to make caregiving easier, speak with your local medical aids vendor. Often therapists are on staff and available to give you advice. It doesn’t cost anything to ask and gather information.

Guest blogger Romalyn Casia is a social media expert, writer, an entrepreneur, and a mother. When she's not working, she spends time with her family, and she bakes too.

Monday, 30 July 2018


When most people think of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, memory loss and forgetfulness tend to top the list. Secondary symptoms such as vision-related problems are not as well-known, even though they can actually manifest as primary symptoms for some forms of dementia.
The brain of a typical Alzheimer’s patient has a buildup of beta-amyloid “plaques”. These proteins damage nerve cells in the memory center of the brain, but early studies suggest they may also travel along the optic nerve and accumulate in the eye. Along with impaired vision, this can affect the brain’s ability to process and make sense of visual data.
Common Vision-Related Problems Caused by Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s can lead to visual deficits and cause perception errors in these 5 main areas:
1.  Motion Detection - In some cases, the ability to detect movement is reduced or lost. Instead of seeing the world as a video in real time, affected individuals may perceive it as a photo-reel with a series of still images. It becomes difficult to follow a moving object, watch TV or navigate familiar surroundings.
2.  Depth Perception - The ability to judge distances and changes in elevation, or tell the difference between flat and 3-dimensional objects can also be compromised. People with Alzheimer’s might try to pick up an item that’s printed in a photograph or confuse carpet and flooring borders for steps.
3.  Peripheral Vision - Advancing age causes some loss in peripheral vision, but Alzheimer’s can narrow the field of vision quite drastically. Affected individuals may be startled when people approach them, bump into walls or furniture, and feel disoriented because they cannot see to the sides while facing forward.
4.  Color Perception - The ability to separate colors also reduces as we get older, but this may happen faster or more severely in someone with Alzheimer’s. Blue-violet colors seem to become particularly difficult to recognize. Affected individuals may have trouble coordinating clothes or managing medication.
5.  Contrast Sensitivity - Along with color itself, Alzheimer’s may also affect the ability to differentiate between various shades of the same color. Some people can find it impossible to detect an object when it’s placed on a background with similar colors, such as a white toilet in a bathroom with white floors and walls.
How Can We Help People with Alzheimer’s-Related Vision Problems?
As caregivers, it is our responsibility to support those with blurry vision or other sight issues caused by Alzheimer’s. Here are some ideas on how to make their lives easier:
   Use Good Lighting - Bright, well-lit environments are easier to navigate, but harsh lighting can aggravate light sensitivity. Install dimmer switches indoors and provide sunglasses for outdoor use.
   Get Rid of Clutter - Cluttered floors are confusing and dangerous for Alzheimer’s patients, so keep them obstacle-free. Avoid patterned flooring, and highlight risky areas or objects in bright colors.
   Schedule Eye Checkups - If you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, take them to see an eye doctor regularly. Early detection and treatment could reduce vision problems.
   Provide Low Vision Aids - Find out about devices and resources available to help people with vision impairments, such as text-to-speech or audio book apps, magnifiers for reading, etc.
   Help Them Travel - Some Alzheimer’s patients may be able to travel on their own, so help them learn about transportation options they can use, and how to find assistance when needed.
Even without throwing dementia or Alzheimer’s in the mix, advancing age is known to affect eyesight and vision. Educating older adults about aging eyes is a crucial step towards keeping them safe, comfortable and healthy.

Author Bio:

Aaron Barriga is the online marketing manager for Insight Vision Center, an Ophthalmology Center in California. With a knack for understanding medical procedures, and an interest in eye and vision health, Aaron loves to share what he knows and what he learns. He blogs to inform readers about the latest eye care technology and other topics related to eye care, especially LASIK. Aaron loves collecting coasters from the different bars and restaurants he visits during his travels.