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Aging Safely at Home in Canada - A Conversation with Jim Closs

January 26, 2023

With the boomer population getting older the question for many has become ‘how can I age safely at home’? For many, the thought of everything that goes into this is daunting. We got the chance to sit down and talk with Jim Closs from Age Safe Canada about steps you can take to ensure you can age safely at home. If you or a loved one are in the planning stages for this type of journey, then keep reading to find out how you can ensure that you age safely right in your own home.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

This will be my 32nd year in, what I would deem, home health care. It's obviously what we'll talk about a bit today in more detail, but prior to this recent wave of exposure to the home health care world, I've been doing working in health care in various roles and responsibilities and big corporations and small start ups and currently find myself independent, as I have been for a number of years, doing different projects.

The one project that we're focused on is, is the Age Safe Canada Senior Home Safety Specialist online training course that we're looking to spread the word about. I can get into it in a little bit more detail later, but my passion is really from my history in recognizing that there is a need of laying out some baseline safety concerns in people's homes for a number of different reasons that we'll get into. But I've taken the mantle and the logo of Age Safe to bring it across all aspects of home health care, whether it's the workers or the clients themselves. So that's where I'm at.

I have a history of accessibility design, Aging in Place design, and home modifications, sales and marketing, and education. Education has always been a big element in how I sold product to health care. So essentially there was always an element of education because at the time it was new. Now it's becoming so innovative and fast changing, like everything in our society that people have to keep up and I'm hoping to be one of those conduits where people can keep up.

What is the connection between the Age Safe Canada and Live Easy?

Live Easy is my own consulting company. Right at the beginning of the pandemic I was looking for other opportunities and I partnered with the Bay Area Health Trust. It's a kind of a unique operation as well in Canada and in the world. It is founded through the Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation about 20 years ago now, where some very smart people said, if we can turn a profit at managing the hospital or the real estate and some of the logistical elements, then that profit then doesn't leave the foundation. It actually goes back into the beneficiaries, which is the hospitals and McMaster University and Mohawk College. Why don't we do that? And they've done that.

So fast forward to just at the end of 2019, 2020, they also invest in life sciences. Any products companies that are associated, they will be either be passive investors or active investors. And there's a couple of products in the aging in place world, the Assistep is a product that we distribute and some Gripo safety poles and some evacuation equipment for people with limited mobility. All these kind of came around the same time we started distributing that.

In the rush of that, we were approached by Age Safe America, which has been around for close to ten years. The curriculum is what we took to Age Safe Canada. We Canadian-ized it, added our advisors, and we did it.

Bay Area Health Trust is a for profit trust that gives their profits back into the health care system. So it's kind of unique that way. They are the license holders of Age Safe Canada and we've now taken that curriculum. When we were approached by Age Safe America, again going back to our previous topic, I really felt the need that there was a missing element at the base level of education.

There's other courses that are talking in and around this but nothing that hit the nail on the head when it came to a very almost basic first aid for somebody. If you look at it, this is like a first aid course for your home. You know, we don't talk necessarily about the client or the patient or the consumer in the course, but it's about the home. It’s a first aid course for the home, if you will, or CPR course for the home. So the association is that Live Easy, under my contract, is the promotional arm, the sales arm, the content development arm, which is one of the reasons we're here today talking to one another around the promotion of the Age Safe home safety certificate.

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What is the vision and mission of both entities?

We just came through an exercise at the end of the year, and it's going to continue into the first quarter, but what we are trying to do is brand ourselves to be more effective in messaging what we want to do as both Live Easy, Bay Area Health Trust, a combination of that and obviously Age Safe. We came up with a, which I thought was a wonderful tagline, which is "innovation is ageless". Our mission is to find and talk about innovation and new ways to do health care.

I think that will always be my focus. I don't want to compete against the ‘me too’ type of products. I want to improve those products if I can in any way, shape, or form.

If we're talking about an overall vision, I personally think and I'm sure you agree and the people that watch this will agree, that the health care system has to change. Whether it's as simple as flipping the script on how moneys are allotted through various levels of government to, it's no secret that in any survey you read, 90% of Canadians would rather just live in their homes until they pass and as they get older, their needs increase.

Can we replicate what they do in countries like Denmark and Sweden, where it's a no brainer. This is all changing so rapidly with age tech stuff so the question is can we be the forefront of helping that script be flipped because there's so many eyeballs on it now. And that's a good thing.

People ask me what I do for a living for the last 30 years and not many people understood it when I gave them that ten minute lecture. Now, soon as I say, why, you know, I mean, seniors care and aging in place, they immediately know it because it's in the common news. It's in the regular news cycle now. People are talking about it because the number one social concern, right now, is how are going to age healthily in Canada?

What do you envision for the future of home care in Ontario? And, you know, therefore across Canada?

I think the first steps are the cold, hard facts have to be presented. I do a lot of talks with some big associations and national associations as well, but there has to be a major advocacy push to give the governments a return on investment. There’s been a couple of studies in the last year, one being through the March of Dimes, that really showed how much money people are actually spending on aging in place already, but there's a gap between who want to do it and who can afford to do it.

I think that's the first place that we have to start, is if there's expansion of tax credits that includes caregiving. Now make it make it more realistic. If we have to pay out of pocket, then we should get it back somehow. It's part of a program that's paid for like in Britain, and the UK and through National Health – their program is completely different on how they operate through and take the funds from the government. It allows people a peace of mind that I think people here, whether they know it or not, are worried about getting sick.

Our American friends always say you've got universal health care, you guys are fine. Not at all, as we know, it's not at all like that and I think people just put things off. A  lot of times in my previous role, and even a little bit now, I see people that have put things off; put even a renovation off or put off getting caregivers to the home because they're concerned of the costs, or they don't know what to do.

There are three things that people ask about: What do I need to do? Who can do it for me? How do I pay for it? Those are the three common themes of anyone trying to stay at home, whether you call it home care, whether you call it aging in place etc. My vision would be the first part is to convince government levels and taxpayers and the general public that there is a return on investment. We're going to save billions of dollars by funding what's happening now. When I mentioned age tech, that's just a flashy word for all the devices and systems that are now put in place.

During COVID, I had to see a specialist. It was the easiest specialist visit I ever had. I emailed my doctor then my doctor emailed the specialist. I had a virtual call within two days. If that was pre-COVID, it would be months before and then I would have had to drive 45 minutes into the office, wait another hour and a half, 2 hours in the office, have a five minute consultation, get a prescription and go. We proved that it could work. We proved that the technologies are there.

My vision would be that let's take the learnings of the last two or three years, turn it into a good thing, and start putting them into practice, putting into regular budgetary level type of discussions so that they can actually be executed on a regular basis and not just in the times of crisis.

What is the biggest piece of advice for people who want to age safely at home?

You have to plan. It's as simple as that. Everybody's aging regardless. The clock ticks over, we're all aging every day.

Don't ignore certain health issues, start thinking ahead of time. Nobody likes to think of their own mortality. I certainly don't. I'm probably the worst one to put things aside, but at the same time, envision yourself in the home you're at or a different home. When we say ‘age in place’, there's also the concept of aging in place that could be in a retirement home, it could be in seniors living, it could be somewhere else. You need to understand what's necessary to take those next steps, whether it's downsizing, having your paperwork in order etc. That's a whole other topic that we kind of brush in in the course a bit, just to give some clarity about personal financial safety, because it's a massive topic unto itself, but in the simplest terms, planning, understanding, not being afraid of asking for help, not being afraid to engage with people.

Even if there is a cost for service, it's well worth it, whether it's through an elder care planner, somebody who has taken Age Safe coursing, there's a lot of elder care planners that take the course as well. Lean on the companies that are out there already. The companies that you support, because all of them have the same goal in mind, which is to keep you healthy and safe.

The reality is, if we're talking about you and me in 20 years, there won't be a building or a bed for us because you just can't build them fast enough. The other reality is that 90% of people would rather just live at home, live in their community. So planning is the simplest answer.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

For the purposes of the people who are going to be listening, obviously we want to partner and have everybody take the course. I can't do this one by one by one. We want to have partnerships with those colleges that we mentioned with the home care companies, a lot of which I have talked to, want to continue to talk to, to have a relationship where, again, this gets embedded in for the employers.

I think one thing I should point out that I did do a posting just before Christmas about is when we talk about workplace safety, that's a topic that's been going on for a number of years. It’s very focused, very highly regulated. If I go into a workplace and an office or anything, there is tons of regulation around workplace safety. When you think about a support worker who goes into some of these individual homes, that becomes their workplace and they're not regulated. It's somebody's home. That home may not have been renovated since the fifties or the sixties. You don't know what's there. This training is almost like another insurance policy for that worker themselves and their employer to make sure that their workplace is safe.

Our course content was developed through a number of the universities in the US, a number of the associations in the US, but they also tapped into a number of the Canadian documents and research that has been done over the last 20 years. It wasn't just reamed off. There was research behind it.

The courses are endorsed by and recognized here in Canada by the Canadian OT Association. OTs play a big part in home modification and understanding environments. We've got a number of those type of recognitions behind it. Our courses are real and they’re written and presented in a very affluent, simple fashion. You can absorb it quite easily and people will nod and go, I get that. Even people with a lot of experience have come to me and said, I've learned a couple little things or it's triggered me on how to think about things a little bit differently.

Where can I find more information about the Senior Home Safety Specialist Course?

The Caring Support Marketplace has more information about the Senior Home Safety Specialist course AND, for a limited time, members of the Caring Support platform can get $100.00 off with a special code! Head over to the marketplace today to get out this great day and get your code.  

About Age Safe Canada & Jim Closs

Age Safe Canada’s mission is to help seniors age in place.  Jim Closs has spent thirty years in seniors’ care and housing, accessible design, safe patient handling and falls prevention. Throughout his career he has been at the leading edge of new product development, commercialization, and education. He has held leadership roles within large organizations and has worked directly with building and operational management, healthcare professionals and families. He is as comfortable around a board room table as he is at a client’s kitchen table.

Throughout these roles it was always the need to educate the clients first, understanding their immediate wants without compromising their future needs. His ability to collaborate and work between those developing and making products and the persons ultimately benefiting has led to numerous success stories. These benefactors include the end-users, caregivers, and healthcare administrators.

Age Safe Canada is the culmination of a lifetime of experience.

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About The Author
Cali Wiersma
Social Media & Content Specialist

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