Fresh Starts


Am I the only one who feels a greater need to hit “reset” in September than in January? The change in seasons seems to come abruptly, as leaves fall and September’s breeze chills. Children go back to school, and it seems like everyone settles in for the colder months, leaving behind the whimsy of summer. For me, this feels like the time to reflect, reset, and get organized. Although this can be a physical task – cleaning and rearranging rooms and purging belongings that no longer serve me, it can also be a deeply emotional one. I find myself reflecting on relationships that nourish me deeply, and others that leave me drained. I look at the ways that I’m treating myself well, and also how I’m not. I ask myself what I can change to ensure I’m taking better care of myself, so in turn I can care for and be present with my loved ones.

Fresh starts, for me, are not about drastically changing my life or setting (often unrealistic) goals. When I feel the need to make changes in my life, I first ask myself the following, very important, question:

Am I being kind to myself?

Goals or changes that are not kind often stem from shame. For example, wanting to lose weight because you feel like you’re unattractive, or hoping to never miss an important event with your care partner because you think you’re unreliable. Ask yourself if the goal feels like a punishment, or a reward, and proceed from there. If the shift feels like a punishment, this reflection might encourage you to get some support for what you’re going through, which can help shift your perspective.

If you need some more ideas for how to get the fresh start you’re craving, read these previous blog posts:

Re-Discovering Gentleness

Setting Intentions

Exploring Hope

Do you find ways to reset in September? How does it impact your caregiving role? We’d love to hear from you in our comments. 

Cassandra Van Dyck


Scam Prevention for Seniors


One day this past spring, I answered a call from an unfamiliar, long-distance phone number. On the other end of the line was a man in a very abrupt voice telling me that there was an issue with my tax return and I owed the government of Canada money. He told me that if I did not pay the money within the next 24 hours that I would be arrested and charged. I furrowed my brow, and hung up the phone. I knew enough about scams to realize this was one straight away. I knew that the Canadian government would never call me to tell me I’d be arrested if I didn’t pay them money within 24 hours. But still, I was a bit rattled. Having anyone call you and threaten your arrest, no matter how innocent you may be, is unsettling. I couldn’t help but think about vulnerable adults out there who may receive similar phone calls and not be able to discern their validity.

Knowing how to protect yourself and your loved one from scams is important. It can prevent you from losing great sums of money, and perhaps even your identity. Con-artists are not always as transparent as the man who phoned me this past spring – they can be quite sneaky and hard to recognise. Educating yourself and your loved one on the ways you might be targeted can help you and your loved one stay safe.

Some Types of Scams

Grandparent scams (also called grandchild scams) are common scams that target seniors. These scams usually involve a phone call from someone who pretends to be your grandchild. If you get a call like this, be prepared: the scammer may already know your grandchild’s name and what your grandchild calls you (for example, a nickname like Nona or Grampy).

Acting as your grandchild, the scammer claims to be in trouble and asks for your help. The scammer may try to convince you that your grandchild was in a car accident or has been arrested. You may be asked to wire money right away, without telling anyone.What to do: If you receive a call like this, DON’T wire the money or give the caller any further information. Hang up and call your grandchild, or another family member, to find out what’s really going on. Then report the scam to:

Charity Scams: Because many seniors donate to charity, older people are often the targets of charity scams. Legitimate organizations may ask for donations in person, over the phone, by mail or via email. Unfortunately, many scams operate this way as well. It can be hard to tell the difference. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • You don’t have to make a donation. Don’t let anyone pressure you. If you’re not sure or feel uncomfortable, just say, “No thanks, I’m not interested.” A legitimate organization will respect your wishes.
  • Be assertive. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.
  • Never send cash, and don’t give your personal information, social insurance number, credit card, or banking information to a stranger.
  • If you want to support a particular organization, consider planned giving. You can decide how much you can afford to give, and contact the organization directly to set up a monthly or one-time donation.

Not all non-profit organizations are registered charities. If you donate to an organization that is not a registered charity, you won’t get a receipt for income tax purposes.


Use the Charities Listings to confirm whether a charity is registered under the Income Tax Act and is therefore eligible to issue official donation receipts; view a charity’s contact information; and view a charity’s Registered Charity Information Return, which includes:financial information (assets, liabilities, income, and expenditures); and activities.

CRA Scam: A fraudster will call you claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency, saying that there is a problem with your taxes and that you owe money. They may say that there is a warrant for your arrest or that you are facing deportation. They demand payment to cancel the warrant or stop deportation proceedings. You are instructed to buy pre-paid gift cards or iTunes cards, and then tell them the codes over the phone.The CRA will never call you threatening arrest or deportation or demanding payment by credit card, pre-paid gift cards or iTunes cards.

Romance Scams – Many seniors have turned to the internet looking for companionship, only to be victimized by fraudsters. They will “meet” someone online who seems very nice and decent, and will develop strong feelings for that person based on email correspondence and photos the fraudster has exchanged with them. Invariably, the fraudster will ask for money as they need an emergency loan to secure a business deal or get them out of trouble, and they will promise quick repayment once the crisis passes. Unfortunately, many seniors have lost significant sums of money, which cannot be recovered from fraudsters who can’t be located or identified.

Email phishing – You will receive an email that appears to be from a well-known Canadian bank asking you to confirm your personal details and account information. This is always a scam. No reputable business or bank will send you emails asking you to confirm information they already have. Fraudsters are trying to get this information from you in order to steal your identity and commit fraud in your name.

For more information on scams, visit VPD, BC Gov, or get up-to-date information on the latest scams from the Better Business Bureau.

Sources: VPD, BC Gov

Cassandra Van Dyck

Anxiety and Caregiving: A Resource to Help


Anxiety is overwhelming. If not managed, it can feel like it’s taking over your whole body – every thought that comes in to your mind might feel negative. Your heart races, your palms sweat and shake, you might feel constantly on the verge of tears. Anxiety can be debilitating, and effect your relationships, your job, and your ability to feel and experience joy.

Everyone will experience anxiety at some point in their life. It can come and go, and many people who battle it will learn tools to cope and lessen the severity of anxious thoughts when it bubbles up. Caregivers may be especially susceptible to anxiety, due to the stress, worries, and tasks that must be addressed. Having support and resources to work through anxiety, even if you’re not currently experiencing the difficult emotion, can help you to work through it, if and when it comes up.

Today I stumbled on a wealth of resources that Anxiety BC offers for free on their website. They provide information on the various ways that anxiety can come up for a person and tips on how to handle it, worksheets, and a free app to help you track and manage anxiety. The website will help you create an anxiety MAP (My Anxiety Plan) to help you get support for your individualised concerns. If you, or anyone you know, struggles with anxiety, this is a fantastic resource.

Have you been faced with anxiety on your caregiving journey? How do you manage it? We’d love to hear from you.


Cassandra Van Dyck

How to Laugh Away Your Stress


Think about a time when you’ve had the giggles. You know… that feeling you get when it seems like no matter what you do, you can’t stop laughing. Your eyes might water and your cheeks and belly might hurt from laughing so hard. That kind of joy seems to wash all of the pain away – if only temporarily. These bouts of laughter are usually unplanned, but what if you could schedule them in to your week? Enter: Laughter Yoga.

Laughter Yoga was created in 1995 in India by Dr. Madan Kataria, who wanted to create an alternative treatment for his patients suffering from stress-related illnesses. This very unique type of yoga invites participants to laugh through exercises, stretches, games and activities. Watch the video below for a sample class.

Dr. Kasim Al-Mashat offers free Laughter Yoga classes on the fourth Monday of every month, from 6-6:30PM at the Centre for Mindfulness Canada (CFMC). It is open to everyone. To register, visit Dr. Kasim Al-Mashat. 



Coping with sadness

Caregivers are responsible for so much, that they sometimes are unable to address the underlying sadness of their situation. Read Karyn’s post from the archives to learn ways to connect with and work through sadness.

North Van Caregivers

When you’re on duty all of the time, making sure your spouse’s or aging parent’s needs are looked after, the reality may be that you’re often feeling exhausted and over-stretched. Being in a state of constant responsibility and vigilance can leave little room to acknowledge the sadness that is likely there beneath the surface.
Sadness. This can be an uncomfortable emotion to name and acknowledge, even with close friends and family; and a hard one to simply be with- yet feelings of sadness and sorrow are commonly felt by caregivers.

red stone heart

Why sadness can be present:
You likely don’t feel connected with your loved one in exactly the same way as before. You probably miss the closeness of having honest conversations, relying on eachother for back-up, and enjoying simple activities together.

Feeling alone.
When you’re the main person in charge of a spouse or parent’s care, you’re at the…

View original post 359 more words

CFS : The Invisible Syndrome

CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) also known as ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) is what I call an ‘invisible’ syndrome, because there is no blood test or other test to diagnose and patients with CFS often look well, thus, it is often a ‘misunderstood’ syndrome and merely dismissed as depression or malingering by doctors.

There are quite a few criteria for diagnosis, which I will list below, onset can be due to some sort of trauma or a bad case of flu, which is, in fact, what CFS feels like.  Diagnosis is based on history, pattern of symptoms and the exclusion of other diseases, such as anemia (low iron).  Often primary psychiatric disorders are an exclusionary factor, however, it is not at all unusual for depression and/or anxiety to be present in CFS sufferers.



Some of the main symptoms of CFS are:

-heat/cold intolerance
-reduced stress tolerance
-slowed-down thinking
-Sensitivity to noise/light
-Severe long-lasting fatigue not improved by rest (this is crucial for diagnosis)
-flu-like symptoms (sore throat/headaches)

(Unexplained prolonged fatigue with insufficient number of symptoms to meet criteria for ME/CFS illness is classified as ‘ideopathic’ (no known cause) chronic fatigue.

Treatment and Coping
The most frustrating thing, as previously mentioned, is that people with CFS don’t necessarily look ill, so physicians tend to be skeptical about the seriousness.

Some recommendations for coping with CFS are:
-pacing yourself (spreading out activities throughout the week or month)
-reducing caffeine
-better sleep hygiene
-gentle exercise (‘gentle’ is the key here so as not to overtire the patient and cause PEM (post-exertional malaise, a key symptom of CFS)
Limit duration of cognitive efforts (use a memory book to write things down)
-find useful, low effort pleasurable activities
-CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) may help, but is not a cure
-B12 injections, B Complex, Vitamin D, magnesium are recommended
-Medications such as anti-depressants can be helpful


Other Possibilities for Fatigue:
Fibromyalgia (tender spots, debilitating fatigue)
Anemia: low-energy, low iron, treatable with iron pills
Burnout is also a possibility (see previous post on burnout, just to re-cap, the 5 symptoms of burnout are: chronic fatigue, impaired concentration, forgetfulness, anxiety, anger, increased illness or headaches).
General Fatigue Syndrome  (you get tired easily, but unlike CFS you feel better after you rest)

My personal journey
Diagnosed CFS in early ‘90s, then anemia, and now burnout.

Useful websites:
Go to BC Women’s ( navigate to BC Women’s Complex Diseases Program and download the form to access diagnosis/treatment. Be aware that there is a 1-2 year waiting list for this service.

-Calm Pond

An Invitation to Surrender


“Sweet surrender, is all that I have to give.” – Sarah McLachlan

Have you ever resisted feeling an uncomfortable emotion, like sadness? How did that feel – in your throat, your limbs, your heart?

Have you ever felt sadness, and then just really let yourself cry? How did you feel then?

Surrendering to emotions or situations that you had not anticipated or hoped for can feel impossible at times, but it’s often just what you need. Accepting and allowing yourself to feel all of the uncomfortable feelings that can come with the caregiving journey will enable you to work through your feelings in a much gentler way.

When you first realized you were a caregiver, you might have felt any number of difficult emotions: frustrated, angry, sad, and even resentful. These are common emotions for caregivers to feel when you’re experiencing high levels of stress and a drastic shift in your way of living. It’s important to get support for these feelings and work through them. Surrendering is not meant to flippantly wish away these feelings or an ending. It is a state of being where you admit that you cannot go on the way you are, so you must do things differently.

“Everyone of us, at some point in our lives, encounters a situation that rocks the foundation of who we are and what we think we can bear—is past our limits if you will.  Sometimes it’s a situation we’ve been living with for a long time and sometimes it’s a sudden event that overwhelms us and for which our usual coping strategies are useless. While the content may differ, what these experiences share is the power to bring us to our knees, figuratively and often literally as well. And, the power to change us.” – Nancy Colier

This is not a “how-to” post. It is an invitation to experience what it’s like to relinquish control and sink in to the present moment. It is a mindfulness experiment – not a set of a steps to follow.

Take some time for yourself in the next little while and try this guided meditation. Find a comfortable place to lie down, close your eyes, and listen.

Have you had moments of surrender in your caregiving journey? We’d love to hear from you.


Cassandra Van Dyck

Finding balance in caregiving, work + life

When you are the primary support person for your aging parents, spouse with memory loss, or adult child with a disability, there is much to be done. It`s likely that you`re on duty most of the time, both at work and at home; which doesn`t allow much extra time to look after your own needs.

It`s natural to …
Feel torn between the needs of your loved one and the demands of your career

Feel stretched for time between bringing up little ones and assisting your parents

Want time for yourself to pursue hobbies you love doing

“While it is important to love others unselfishly, it is crucial to find a balance. When we compromise our needs and martyr ourselves to the point of depleting ourselves and neglecting our needs, we become out of balance.”
 – Jessica Minty, Codependency: Self Confidence


Making sure your spouse or family member is well taken care of can add a weighty load to all that you’re already doing in your life. It is common to become exhausted or burnt out after months or years of balancing a massive work load. Balance doesn’t need to be about aiming for a 50-50 distribution between career and home life. There will be times that loved ones need a greater amount of your attention; and other weeks when work is all- consuming. Finding balance is more about creating rhythms that are manageable for you- given your energy levels, strengths, and challenges as a person. You might feel stressed after fitting too much into one day, or you might thrive on having lots of tasks completed in a timely way. It`s about knowing yourself and what you need in order to feel healthy, happy, and able to tackle what comes your way- and considering this along with the support your loved one requires.
It`s about coming to accept what you can and cannot do, which is a real letting go of others` expectations, and of self-judgments about your abilities or your character.

Consider how you define healthy balance …
 Hurrying less
Enjoying the moment more
Connecting with your spouse, not just doing practical tasks
Feeling a sense of accomplishment when the week is over
Not worrying about small things
Celebrating the things that go well

Balance can be created slowly over time, and tended to with love.
It is a work in progress; an always new learning. Anything you do that brings you more peace of mind is one step towards building your own self-care practice. I invite you to pay attention to when you`re getting a bit depleted, and to schedule in some re-charge time.

A photo by Gaetano Cessati.

`Take “just for you” breaks regularly – these are essential for you to best manage.
–Rick Lauber

Read about Rick`s excellent book  Caregivers`Guide for Canadians at


Mindful Monday no. 44 – Positive Versus Negative Self-Talk

Read this post by Lindsay Kwan from two years ago to learn about positive and negative self-talk, and how they impact your well-being.

North Van Caregivers

photo-1451650645557-62193a7bed6a“Words can make you sick. And heavy. And dark.

Words can make you light. And radiant. And energized.”

-Danielle LaPorte

Recently, I came across a blog post by author and inspirational speaker, Danielle LaPorte, about an experiment she conducted at home to teach her child the importance of self-talk. The experiment was simple; she cut an apple in half and for a period of time, her family talked positively to one half, and negatively to the other half. After roughly a month, she said, the apple that they had been talking negatively to was brown and rotting. The other half that they talked positively to was still relatively preserved.


The apple experiment has been conducted by many people with similar results. Inspired by the research of Dr. Masaru Emoto, where he froze different water samples that had been exposed to both positive and negative talk to examine the structural difference in the crystal…

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The Right to Dignity

We are all worthy of love and respect. This notion has led me to a career path of helping those less fortunate, or so I thought. Starting with children and youth, transitioning to young women and now working with seniors, I have learned more about resiliency and myself than about how less fortunate my clients are than I.

Since my university days, I have been reciting the mantra “it is important to meet clients where they are at.” For the most part, I did my best to follow through with this practice; however, only recently, working with seniors, have I fully realized what this means.  Those who have walked this earth a lot longer than I must inherit certain allowances and privileges. I can’t possibly do my best to “meet them where they are at” without first honouring and respecting a senior’s decisions, viewpoints, and right to have all of their basic needs met or at least provide available resources for any unmet needs. This does not mean I must agree with their choices or viewpoints.  The very act of offering unconditional support in the way they need it is the quintessential definition of supporting a person to age in place with dignity.


Right to personal choice
When we become adults, we become solely responsible for our own wellbeing. We have complete personal agency to make any decision we like without having to seek permission or having severe repercussions placed on us, unless of course our decisions are harmful to self or others.

Somehow society forgets that this still stands when an adult ages and becomes increasingly more dependent on family and community, potentially fragile, and has more health concerns. This does not, nor should it, mean they become our dependents as if their entire history of walking this earth has vanished and they somehow need younger adults to tell them how to live or what to do differently.

Right to basic needs, community support, and available resources
Oftentimes, I learn of a client’s situation that sounds undesirable to me. For example, they only live in a small part of their large 3-storey house and want it to stay that way. I see that as wasted space but it is their space to decide what to do with. I will certainly speak to them about social activities and connection to community. However, if that adult has all of their basic needs met and assures me they are happy with their routine, then all I can do, and should do, is respect and support them for what they are requesting help for only. Of course, leaving a few resources behind in case they decide they would like to seek assistance, about housing or social connection for example, doesn’t hurt either.

Right to unconditional respect and support
Judgment is a human condition. We compare our behaviours and beliefs with those of others. However, if another adult chooses to do things differently than us, this does not mean we should impose our ways on them. This would actually be a means of stripping them of their dignity. It usually takes more strength of compassion to withhold our judgment and continue our support for them. That is my job. A wonderful side effect has happened when I stop comparing and judging, and just listen to those who have lived, struggled, and survived for so long on this earth. I have learned so much more about life and about myself.
Rosanna Wilbur
Program Coordinator, North Shore Better at Home Program