Donna Green thought she was just getting a little clumsy. “I was always athletic in my younger years and I noticed I wasn’t picking things up peripherally in my mid-20s," she says.
She didn’t know at the time that she was experiencing the first symptoms of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), an eye disease that slowly damages the retina, leading to blindness. It affects one in 3,500 Canadians and it’s genetic: both of Green’s parents were carriers.
Now 60, entrepreneur and philanthropist Green had no idea she had RP. “I probably waited a couple of years [before going to a doctor]. Generally, you think you’re being clumsy. It’s like ‘oh, I knocked over a glass. I didn’t see it, silly me.’ But if you do it enough times after a year or so, you go, ‘This really is not right’ and after a couple years of what looks like frequent clumsiness, you start to think twice about it.”
Retinitis Pigmentosa is just one of many retinal eye diseases being researched and funded by the Foundation Fighting Blindness. (The more-commonly known Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB) provides assistance and services to Canadians living with vision loss.)
The most common eye disease among Canadians is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which causes a progressive loss of central vision. It’s estimated that one million Canadians live with some form of AMD and that number is only expected to rise thanks to the country’s aging population.
SIgns of vision loss Some symptoms of vision loss to look for include:
Difficulty seeing at night
Difficulty adapting to dim conditions
Loss of peripheral vision
Blurring of central vision
Difficulty seeing fine details close up and at a distance, even with glasses
Distortion of fine lines and shapes
Development of a blind spot in the centre, or near the centre of the visual field
There are no cures for RP and AMD-related vision loss, but researchers are working on the problem. One is Dr. Valerie Wallace, Head of Vision Research at the Toronto Western Research Institute, whose work is supported by Foundation Fighting Blindness. Her team works on eye development and their current project attempts to rescue vision in damaged retinas through cell transplantation. The research focuses on the rod and cones of the eye – key areas affected by RP and AMD.
Wallace says that although research into the causes of RP and AMD is ongoing, researchers are developing theories. In genetic cases of RP, the disease may be the result of a rogue protein.
“It might accumulate and these rogue proteins malfunction,” says Wallace. “This stresses the cells and causes them to die.” She is quick to explain that they don’t still completely understand why the cells die.
Currently, there are three areas of research for RP: protective, corrective, and sight-restorative. Protective research aims to stop or slow down the damage caused by the genetic mutations that cause RP. Corrective research looks at ways to reverse the underlying genetic defect, including gene therapy. Finally, sight-restorative focuses on people who have lost some or all of their vision.
Wallace is optimistic about the research. “If you asked me 20 years ago about gene therapy, I would have been very skeptical."
Green is optimistic as well, and hopes that one day, vision loss won't require ongoing support - just access to a cure.
Our editors share the items they are coveting this February—and they're all under $100.
As much as we love shopping, what we love even more is a good deal. Which is why we asked our style editors to share the items that they'll be shopping for this month. The good news? Everything is under $100, which means you don't have to feel guilty about picking a few things up yourself.
As I think about spring, I always begin to think about what sneakers I’m going to pick up. Spring is sneaker season, at least if you ask me. This year, I’m going back to basics with a classic pair of Vans. Bonus—they’ve been spotted on bloggers, models and off-duty actors, so you know this style is making a comeback. At the very affordable $80 price point, this will be money well-spent seeing as how I'll be living in them for the season. - Alexandra Donaldson, contributing editor
Graphic pants are everything at the moment. Dress them down with sneakers, add heels for a more professional look, pair it with a form-fitting top to keep it sleek. They'll go with everything. - Noelle Gauthier, style intern
Uniqlo women smart style ankle length pants, $40, uniqlo.com.
Easy to apply eyeshadow
If I’m wearing makeup beyond my under-eye concealer and mascara, it needs to be efficient. Which is why I have my eye on this Nudestix eye crayon. The metallic hue will add a bit of pizzazz to my makeup look, without too much extra effort.
Nudestix Magnetic Eye Colour in Twilight, $28, sephora.com.
How come boyfriend jeans always seem amazing in theory, but never translate into the model-off-duty look when worn? These "girlfriend" jeans have a tailored fit making them far more wearable.
Animal motifs have been hot on the runway—but if you can’t afford to spring for Gucci (and really, who can?) you can pick up this panther cropped sweatshirt from Forever 21. At $25 it’s a steal—and super cute to boot.
A few years ago I never could have imagined loving the kitten heel like I do now—but these days everything is old new again. The low-heel allows me to survive in them all day, so I'm thinking they'll be sticking around for awhile.
Say what you want about the Kardashians, but they have the perfectly tousled California-girl waves I'm after. Enter this new haircare line by their trusted hairstylist, Jen Atkin. I'm eyeing this texturizing spray to recreate their manes.
Counteract this season’s shorter and often darker days with one of these bright ideas.
Today marks the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Although the days are slowly going to get longer, winter is just getting started. If you’re like us, you spend more time indoors this time of year cuddled up under blankets reading a great book or binge watching TV. Set the mood for cozy days in by bringing more light into your space. From a pendant made from a basket to a fairy light garland and a mason jar candle holder, we’ve rounded up our favourite DIY lights from Pinterest.
1. String Lights Garland
Perched on a mantel, strung on a wall or draped across a dresser, these leafy lights will add a soft glow to any space. Find the instructions at Homey Oh My.
2. Fairy Light Photo Display
String a garland of mini lights across a wall and clip black and white images to the wire using mini clothespins. We love how Li-Chi Pan used it as an alternative to a traditional headboard.
3. Basket Pendant
Transform a woven basket into a pendant light in a few simple steps. Suspended above a dining table, it adds a BLAH. Find out how Emily Henderson made this one here.
We polled family doctors from across the country, and they laid down the law on eight things they wish we'd do—or stop doing.
According to our panel of general practitioners, Canadians aren't always doing what they should to make the most of doctor visits—and skipping out on these crucial tactics could lead to a delay in diagnosing serious conditions. Here's what our experts say you should add to your patient checklist.
1. Stop feeling shy
Many of us hesitate to talk to our physicians about sensitive issues (think substance abuse or sexual health—or even gender identity). But honesty and openness are important, both for fostering a good doctor-patient relationship and for ensuring that you get the best care, says Dr. Laura Pripstein, medical director of the Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto and a staff physician on the family health team. That's why it's OK to try out a doc before committing. Dr. Pripstein recommends booking an initial visit to see if your potential doctor is a good fit. "You want to see if this person seems like someone you can talk to, someone you feel comfortable with," she says. And if you don't think your doctor understands or respects your concerns, don't be afraid to find someone new. "If you feel you can't ask questions that might be embarrassing, you don't have the right provider," says Dr. Pripstein.
2. Don't come to your appointments unprepared
Get the most out of your time—and your doc's—by arriving at your appointment with a clear plan for what you want to discuss, says Dr. David Ross, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "It's good to have patients think about their problems from when the issue began, then look at it chronologically to the present," says Dr. Ross. Making a prioritized point-form list in advance helps ensure that you don't forget anything or mix up the order of events, he says. Then, work with your doctor to address the most serious issues first.
3. Choose your family doc over the walk-in clinic whenever you can
Yes, a clinic is convenient, but what we gain in easy access, we lose in familiarity. "I think it's really valuable if people can connect with a family physician who they'll be able to see long term, rather than just looking for the quickest way to access care," says Dr. Maurianne Reade, a physician with the Manitoulin Central Family Health Team in Mindemoya and M'Chigeeng First Nation, Ont. A family doctor will know your medical history and will keep it in mind when suggesting treatment—so, for example, if you've recently taken several courses of antibiotics for a UTI, your physician will likely look for a different course of action if you come in with another infection. According to the most recent statistics, about 4.5 million Canadians don't have a regular family doctor. If that's you, contact your provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons, or check to see if your region has an online registry (Ontario has Health Care Connect, while Quebec launched a web-based family doctor finder last year). "It's important to know that we doctors are privileged to share in your stories and to help you through difficult times," says Dr. Reade.
4. Share what's happening in your life
There's a reason your doctor wants to know where you're working, if you're dating and how the kids are—and it's not just because she likes you. (Though she does, we're sure.) Physicians need a picture of their patients' lives beyond their specific health symptoms and conditions, especially when they're first getting to know you, says Dr. Stephen Wetmore, the family medicine chair at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University in London, Ont. "Doctors need to know these things to understand how your lifestyle and habits may be influencing your health," he says. So when you're talking about your exercise habits, your health history and whether you smoke, drink or use drugs, mention your employment status, family obligations and intimate relationships, too, says Dr. Wetmore.
5. Be a better googler
Doctors know you do it (hello, late-night web searches), but they would prefer you to ask about good sources of information, rather than going rogue online. They also want you to be honest about your fears if you've read something particularly upsetting. Physicians can't address your concerns or point you in the right direction if they don't know what your fingertips have been up to. "The thing we want our patients to do is ask us for the most reliable Canadian websites to go to as resources," says Dr. Heather Waters, an assistant professor of family medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton.
6. Don't think your symptoms are "no big deal"
If you've noticed you are having more headaches than usual or are sleeping more or are eating less, you might not think to tell your doctor—but you should. There's no set of rules for determining which symptoms are worthy of investigation or discussion, says Dr. Wetmore, but make a note to mention anything that is new or has changed since your last appointment. "You should bring up things like sudden weight loss or fatigue that seems excessive," he says. "It could be a sign of a larger problem, or the cause of a developing problem." Evenif it doesn't end up being serious, seeing your doctor will help ease any anxiety you might be feeling, and that's worth the visit, too.
7. Talk about what you're taking
Tell your physician about any herbal medications and alternative treatments you take, says Dr. Mel Borins, a University of Toronto associate professor and author of A Doctor's Guide to Alternative Medicine: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why. It's important for patients to share what's working for them and for doctors to be open-minded about therapies outside their own practice or traditions, he says. This is also a concern when it comes to conventional meds, especially if you're pregnant; there are only 23 medications specifically approved for use during pregnancy— yes, out of every available drug—which can leave women feeling anxious about taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs when they're expecting, says Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Bridgewater, N.S. But don't stop taking your meds as soon as your pregnancy test comes back positive. "It's really important to talk to your doctor instead of stopping cold turkey," says Dr. MacQuarrie. Physicians can help you determine the risks and benefits of using different drugs, and they can let you know when the effects of not taking a medication while pregnant may be worse than taking it— which is the case with some antidepressants.
8. Avoid diagnosing yourself
You know doctors don't like it when you come in prepared with a diagnosis you've made thanks to the aforementioned Dr. Google. But do you know why? It's not because they think you're encroaching on their territory! Rather, they worry that a serious medical problem might get missed or you'll cause yourself unnecessary anxiety over something not serious. That's because not everyone has the most common symptoms of a particular condition. Plus, men, women and different ethnicities can have varying symptoms for the same problem. For instance, Dr. Reade's community has a large proportion of people with diabetes, which can affect the warning signs of cardiac disease, a major killer in Canada. Instead of the usual pain or pressure on the left side of the chest or arm, men and women with diabetes may instead have spells of profuse sweating with weakness. And, of course, women who don't have diabetes can have differing symptoms, too; sometimes, a heart attack can feel like acid reflux or come with sudden nausea, vomiting and lightheadedness. So always tell your physician if your symptoms are surprising or strange—like a headache that feels different than usual, for example. And if you're worried about a specific diagnosis, be sure to bring that up, too.
While every Canadian faces his or her own unique set of health hurdles, there are a number of ailments that have become pervasive in Canada. Though medicine has advanced over the years, our modern lifestyles have introduced a new set of health challenges. Here are some of the top health problems that Canadians face today.
You've spent all afternoon baking a cake only to have the centre cave in. Or perhaps it didn’t rise to begin with, and now you have a dense, stodgy brick. Here are the four main reasons why that’s happening and how to prevent it.
1) Your leavener is expired. Air bubbles are essential for a cake to rise, but if your leavener is stale, the chemical reaction that causes the air bubbles to form will never happen, leaving your cake dense, gummy, and flat. Before setting out to make any baked good, it’s smart to check your baking powder or baking soda for freshness, especially if you don’t bake very often.
To test baking powder for freshness, mix a small spoonful with a little boiling water. It should bubble and fizz vigorously. To see what that looks like, click here.
To test baking sodafor freshness, mix a small spoonful with a splash of vinegar. The same fizzy reaction should happen. If they don’t fizz, toss them out and buy fresh containers. 2) Your eggs are too cold. Eggs are a key ingredient when it comes to incorporating air into a batter, and room-temperature eggs will whip up far more readily than cold ones. In fact, in all our Canadian Living baking recipes, we assume all eggs are used at room temperature.
Before you start making a recipe, be sure to take your eggs out of the fridge first and let them stand while you collect all your other ingredients (30 minutes is usually long enough, depending on the temperature of your kitchen).
In a pinch, place your eggs in a bowl and pour very warm water over them to cover. Let stand until the eggs are no longer cold to the touch, about 5 minutes.
Pro tip: If your recipe calls for the eggs to be separated, do it while they're still cold and then let the yolks and whites stand separately at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before using. The membranes of a room-temperature egg are much more delicate than a cold one, so you’re way less likely to break the yolk if you separate them while they're still cold.
3) You under-baked the cake, or peeked while it was baking. That old adage about not making any loud noises while a cake is baking is true! The structure of a half-baked cake is very delicate and anything from a loud noise to a drastic drop in temperature (i.e. opening the oven door to peek) can cause it to fall.
It’s easy to tell if a cake is under-baked: If it’s high and fluffy around the edges, but fallen, dense and gummy in the centre, it needed more time. To avoid under-baking your cake, check it for doneness no sooner than 5 minutes before it’s supposed to be done. To do so, insert a cake tester in the centre—it should come out clean. You can also gently tap the top with your finger. If it feels firm and springs back, it's ready. Pro tip: Unless directed, don’t try to remove a cake from the tin straight out of the oven — it can sometimes be a bit too delicate at this stage. Let it cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove it directly to a rack to cool completely.
4) There isn’t enough flour in your recipe. This one is a bit trickier and only really happens when you’re adapting another recipe or playing around with recipe development.
A cake relies heavily on protein—in eggs and flour—to maintain its structure. The protein in flour is called gluten. Gluten is a bit of a four-letter word lately, but it serves an important purpose: over-develop gluten and you’ll end up with a doorstop; avoid it entirely and your cake will likely fall.
If you don't have enough flour in a recipe, there won't be a strong enough foundation to allow for proper expansion and the cake will collapse. You’ll notice gluten-free and flourless cakes are often sunken in the centre, and that's why.
If you're trying out your own cake recipe and the texture is gummy, or the centre is fallen no matter how long you bake it, try increasing the flour by a tablespoon or two until you get the desired consistency.
Remember that a sunken cake isn't the end of the world. Most of the time, it will still be delicious and you can cover up that fallen centre by piling it with some creative toppings, like whipped cream or sweetened mascarpone and fresh fruit.
The important part is to get into the kitchen and have fun! Everyone will love your efforts, regardless.
For a collection of 25 Tested-Till-Perfect chocolate cakes and cupcakes, click here!