Identifying Nutrition Risks for Healthy Aging

A healthy diet is key to maintaining and improving good health. Yet life circumstances can put our nutrition out of balance and increase our health risk. Here are three things to look for that increase your nutritional risk.

Fresh vegetables are important components of a...
Fresh vegetables are important components of a healthy diet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a general population, Canadians don’t eat well. A Neilson survey determined that only one in ten Canadians are getting the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables. In addition we seem to consume less fresh food – including meat, seafood, dairy, produce, delicatessen and bakery – than our European and Asian counterparts. It is not very impressive that we rank slightly higher than the U.S. in eating fresh food. Canadians value “convenience” over “freshness”.

Choosing to eat less nutritional foods has its consequences. Diet plays a key role in maintaining health. But it also is supremely important in the aging process. A scientific study in Scotland determined that poor diet was a major contributor to accelerated biological aging.

Telomere attrition has been established as a major risk factor for numerous diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), hypertension, diabetes and end stage renal disease. Telomeres are key cellular structures that are involved in cell division. Telomere attrition is thought to represent a molecular clock and their healthiness can determine how long one can live. The Scottish study determined that poor diet increases telomere attrition and consequently can lead to faster aging.

Canadians are increasing their rate of aging by not eating well. However, this can be worse for older Canadians. Statistics Canada revealed that Canadians over the age of 65 are 30% at nutritional risk. Nutritional risk is the risk of poor nutritional status, which lies between “nutritional health” and malnutrition. They found that adults in later life are particularly vulnerable regardless of sex or income. If as a general population we are not eating well and aging faster, this is amplified in the 65+ age category.

The three main reasons for nutritional risk are: living alone, depression and disability. If an older Canadian is in one or many of these categories they are at a higher nutritional risk.

I found these three factors to be true with my father. Dad lived in an apartment across the street from a grocery store having lost Mum several years earlier. At this point he was no longer able to snowbird down to Florida or visit a lady friend in Maine. He was living alone.

Over several months, my sister and I noticed a decline in his health and mood. When I’d check his fridge, I saw very little food. He started to use a cane because it was becoming difficult to walk. He found walking across the street a challenge. We were very concerned that he would not last much longer if the situation didn’t change.

Two years ago, we convinced him to move into a retirement residence. Now he has a social outlet. He dines on a regular basis with other residents and enjoys group activities. A physiotherapist visits him three times a week for exercises. He has a good appetite. He celebrated his 88th birthday and is looking really well compared to where he was.

It is comforting that science supported our moving Dad to a retirement residence. It was the best decision for his health because it addressed the three factors that contribute to nutritional risk in the over 65 age group. He continues to enjoy a healthy life.

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