According to the division chief of geriatric medicine with Eastern Health, Dr. Susan Mercer, there are things seniors can do to help their journey toward healthy aging.
Combined with physical activity, Mercer said, good nutrition helps seniors remain independent, maintain their quality of life and avoid progression of chronic diseases.
People who start healthy eating as young adults tend to continue to maintain their good habits into their senior years, she said. And following Canada’s Food Guide is important, she added.
There are a number of factors that may make eating healthy more challenging, such as memory loss and other cognitive changes that may make it difficult for seniors to access food, Mercer said.
Seniors who lose the ability to cook for themselves are also challenged nutritionally.
“People who are living independently may be particularly vulnerable, as there may not be somebody observing what they eat or the way they acquire food,” Mercer said.
Eating also goes hand in hand with social events and it’s not unusual for people to socialize less as they age. “It is challenging to cook for one ... and people tend to eat better when they eat socially,” Mercer said.
There are a number of social programs that combine physical activity with healthy snacks and/or a hot meal. “Those types of programs go a long way for healthy eating,” she said.
Seniors with mobility issues may also have trouble getting to or around the grocery store, Mercer said. The diets of seniors who need but can’t afford dentures may also suffer, she added.
Fluid intake, especially among seniors, is very important, she said, yet oftentimes falls by the wayside. Water is the fluid of choice, she said.
“Fluid intake and healthy eating go a long way with respect to bowel function and that has a huge impact on your overall well-being. And physical activity goes right along with that,” Mercer said.
Mercer said Meals on Wheels, a program operated by the Canadian Red Cross, is also a way to eat healthy. More grocery stores are also offering meal preparation and delivery, she said, and dietitians are a great resource for people who’d like to learn more about nutrition.
Dial-a-Dietitian is a free service connecting Newfoundlanders and Labradorians directly with a registered dietitian. Call 811 or 1-888-709-2929/TTY 1-888-709-3555. Information can also be found online at 811healthline.ca.
With so many seniors living alone, Mercer said, it’s a good idea to check on your neighbours, family and friends to see how they’re doing when it comes to healthy eating. “Everybody deserves to be well nourished ... a little bit of support goes a long way,” she said.