Optimal Aging


How do we remain healthy, active and engaged as we age?  That is the foundational question that led to the creation of the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative at McMaster University.

There is no shortage of advice on how we should prepare financially as we age. 

A good amount of this advice comes from those with a vested interest in our savings – banks, investment and insurance companies.  Other advice comes from those with no financial interest in how we save – Government or public policy sources, for instance.  It’s usually easy to tell the difference between the two sources.

Likewise, until now, a good deal of available information on optimal aging has come from commercial sources who are trying to sell us something. Finding high quality objective, evidence-based information on optimal aging has not been easy.  Last week, McMaster launched the optimal aging portal, which allows us to search for information on healthy aging topics such as nutrition, exercise or maintaining mobility and to be directed to sources that have been identified as high quality and backed by evidence.  Each source is rated on various criteria and summarized in laymen’s terms.

I encourage you to visit the site.  Start here to get a perspective on what is currently available: http://www.mcmasteroptimalaging.org/citizens/browse

In a web universe filled with biased, inaccurate and even incorrect information, getting expert help is invaluable in allowing us more quickly and confidently locate the advice and resources that will help us age well.

- Robert

Own Your Health Information


In 1956, a 14 year old girl named Linda Collins cut her finger and sought treatment at a local hospital in Turlock, California.  Before receiving a tetanus shot, Linda received a small dose to check for any underlying sensitivity to the tetanus antitoxin. She was highly allergic to the tetanus antitoxin and nearly died as a result of the exposure. Her father, Dr. Marion Collins, who was away at the time on vacation, vowed that his daughter would never be vulnerable again.  Linda, he insisted, would wear identification alerting health professionals to her condition.  And MedicAlert was born.

What Dr. Collins discovered however, was far more profound. He demonstrated that when individuals assume greater ownership of their health information their overall well-being improves.


For anyone managing a chronic or life threatening condition, the value of investing time and effort in managing and understanding their health information is well understood – poor or incomplete data can have a significant effect on their health. But the same is true for all of us – we can all benefit.

But we treat our health information with indifference.  We assume that our health data is something our Doctor and her colleagues in the health care system will look after for us.  We are so accustomed to our paternalistic model of health care that we sometimes don’t notice the problem at all.  For instance, at a recent annual exam I was asked by the nurse when I had last had a tetanus shot. I couldn’t remember and rather than search through my file she simply administered another. I walked away a little perturbed that the office couldn’t manage to keep this information.  But isn’t this responsibility mine too?

file-and-mouse-200x300We keep better records on car maintenance than on their own health.  It’s odd when you think about it. We have grown accustomed to outsourcing ownership of our most sensitive personal information.   

Until recently this state of affairs was hardly surprising. Our health system generates an enormous amount of data whose primary audience is other health professionals. The information was difficult for individuals to get at and even if you could, difficult to interpret.

This state of affairs is beginning to change:

  • There is a wealth of resources available on the web that help us better understand our health information. Some due diligence is required – the web is rife with poor information and inaccurate information but good resources do exist.
  • Personal monitoring devices such as blood pressure and heart rate monitors are proliferating allowing us to generate our own health data.
  • Canada is in the midst of a revolutionary change to the way health information flows.  The implementation of electronic health records promises safer and more efficient care and an opportunity to build health information systems that allow individuals to play a far greater role in managing their own health information.

Thus we have better tools available to us every day to enable us to become more active participants in our own healthcare.  Try this:  On your next visit to your GP ask for your latest record and lab results.  Buy a file folder.  That’s all you need to start.


Robert Ridge is the President and CEO of the Canadian MedicAlert Foundation.  MedicAlert manages the emergency medical profiles of over one million Canadians and close to five million people worldwide.

What’s #GivingTuesday Anyway?

Most people know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But have you heard of #GivingTuesday™?

This year, the movement to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season has come to Canada and MedicAlert Foundation is proud to be involved in spreading the word.

#GivingTuesday ultimately celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support registered charities or non-profit organizations.

Being dubbed the “opening day of the giving season,” this year, December 3, 2013 is a day where charities, companies and individuals join together to share commitments, rally for favourite causes and think about others.

As one of many charities who rally for your support, we’ve made it our mission since 1961 to protect and save lives by serving as the information link between Canadians and emergency responders during medical crises or other times of need. Your gift helps ensure emergency responders and hospital staff get critical medical information when it matters most –– and that those who live in financial hardship have the support they need through subsidized programs like No Child Without and Membership Assistance.

Join thousands of others and support those in need this #GivingTuesday. Visit us at medicalert.ca/donate to make a difference.

– Robert

How your Physician and Mechanic are Alike


Most people have experienced this: you are driving along and then all of a sudden a trouble light starts to flash on your dash. Your car’s computer is telling you to take your car in for servicing.  So you do, which involves your mechanic reading the trouble code with specialized equipment that is hooked up to your car and then, of course, hands you a bill for this service. 

When something is wrong, your car knows, but only your mechanic can access this information and this costs you.

Similarly, your physician has access to information about you and what might be wrong – and sometimes accessing this information (YOURS) costs you.

Fortunately, this situation is changing as more and more physicians see the value in sharing such information with their patients.  Some progressive physicians even take the time to review patient information with the patient at the end of the visit, which not only helps the individual become engaged in their own healthcare but also catches any possible errors in the data.

I’d like free access to my healthcare information and results.  Wouldn’t you?

- Robert

P.S.  I’d also like my car to tell me exactly what that flashing light means!

My Top 4 Online Tools to Explore


One of the great things about the web is that it enables various forms of interactive technology that are both simple and compelling to use.  Here are the four that made it on my favourites list:

1.  Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada:  Make Health Last Risk Assessment https://makehealthlast.ca

A world-class health assessment tool.  It’s fun to use and produces valuable insights on your health. It looks really good too!

2.  CDA Diabetes:  Interactive learning modules http://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/healthylivingseries/

Want to know more about diabetes?  These modules are easy to follow and organized so you can watch only those you are most interested in.

3.  Realage.com Realage.com

If you are a Dr. Oz fan you will already know about this site.  Commercially focused but nonetheless the technique of comparing your age with your real age (a calculation based on your current state of health and health behaviours) really gets you thinking.  No one likes to be told that they are older than they really are!

4.  WebMD symptom checker http://www.symptoms.webmd.com

Another commercial site but a good example of how technology is (and will be) harnessed to engage people in their own healthcare.