The famous line attributed to 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli says it best: there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. And sometimes statistics can beguile and mask a reality that is very different.
Case in point: life expectancies. In the United States, it has reached a record 79 years, on average. And in Canada, even higher: 82 years for the average Canadian. On the face of it, North Americans are living longer – and presumably healthier – than they ever have before. And if people are living longer, then they must be eating right, and exercising enough. Right?
According to Felice Kosakavich, Chief Clinical Dietitian at Workmen's Circle MultiCare Center, a healthcare facility in New York City, older people in North America may be living longer, but they’re not necessarily as healthy as we might think.
Kosakavich told RetirementHomes.com that the biggest mistake made by older Americans and Canadians is a combination of eating too much unhealthy food, and too little healthy food. But it’s not as easy as simply buying more lettuce at the grocery store; it can be harder to eat healthy than it may seem.
“Sometimes convenience and finances take over leaving older people unable to have easy access to fresher foods because of cost and possible shopping constraints,” Kosakavich said. “Processed high sodium/fat foods often have a more shelf stable life.”
In other words, an older person who may be on a fixed income, or perhaps suffers from limited mobility, may find it difficult to regularly purchase healthy produce at the grocery store, and may instead opt to buy unhealthier, cheaper foods less often, because they can be stored for longer periods of time without going rotten.
So when faced with a tough challenge – economic factors, mobility issues, and more – how can older people, many of whom were not raised in an atmosphere of healthy eating, learn how to take care of themselves in their advanced years?
As for seniors living in retirement communities, the level of nutrition can sometimes vary with the type of care they are receiving. For example, someone suffering from cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s Disease may be at a disadvantage because they cannot remember which types of foods they enjoyed in the past, or, as their disease advances, they may lose the ability to swallow altogether, further limiting their ability to eat healthy food options.
Still, for the majority of older people who, while experiencing some level of physical & cognitive slowdown which is common with advanced age, healthy eating doesn’t need to be impossible or difficult.
Kosakavich recommends a varied diet which includes a combination of fiber, iron and calcium-rich foods. Fiber rich foods to help constipation, iron rich foods (such as lean meat, eggs, and vegetables) to maintain energy levels, calcium-rich foods are important to stem osteoporosis, and salt should be limited, as it increases the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in both the United States and Canada.