Choosing a Healthy Eating Pattern

This is the fifth and final of a series of guest posts from our friends at  We think this is helpful information for both seniors and those who care for them.  Those under a physician’s care, especially seniors, should consult a physician before making significant changes in their diet.

Seniors struggle each day with how to stay healthy and age gracefully.  In order to provide you with more ideas to help you make choices about what to eat and what to avoid, we continue our discussion in this final chapter.

Together we have been exploring the newly revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans in previous weeks.  The USDA and HHS have completed their in-depth study based on the evidence of many research studies and have compiled their recommendations to help us improve our health.  These new recommendations will help seniors begin making changes to move towards better health.

In our previous articles, we have found out that there are foods seniors (and all of us) need to eat more of everyday to stay healthy and improve their wellness for the years to come.  We also discovered which foods are better to leave at the grocery store.  We have been reminded that getting our bodies back to a healthy weight through physical activity and diet changes will make a great impact on our senior’s health and their ability to either prevent or reduce the effects of chronic medical diseases.

Today we will wrap up our review with information about Building Healthy Eating Habits and Making Better Choices (chapter 5 and 6 of the new guidelines).  A healthy eating pattern is different for each person especially seniors.  It should take into account personal preferences, cultural and ethnic food desires, traditional food tastes and the cost and availability of food in their area. Making better choices is a goal for seniors as they age and all of us through our lifespan.

Key Recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for choosing a Healthy Eating Pattern:

  • Select an eating plan that includes nutrient dense foods from every food group meeting your nutritional needs without an excess of calories.
  • Examine all food and beverages and how they fit into your overall plan.
  • Reduce the risk of food borne illness by following food safety recommendations.

Tips to achieve these recommendations:

  • Limit the added fats in the foods you eat.  Grill, bake or roast all foods instead of frying. Cut fat from meat and choose the leanest cut of meat to start with the lowest saturated fat product.  Limit breaded and fried protein items.
  • Limit added sugar in the foods you eat. Reduce your choices of sugar added/frosted cereals.  Use unsweetened fruits and fresh fruits instead of pre-sweetened options.
  • Use low fat dairy products such as low fat/nonfat milk, part skim cheeses, and low fat yogurt.
  • Reduce non-nutritional beverages that supply excess calories such as soda, sport drinks, alcohol, and fruit flavored drinks.  Increase water as a beverage and drink to prevent thirst.
  • To maintain food safety in your kitchen (more info at
    • Clean your hands and all surfaces. Wash all fruits and vegetables.
    • Separate foods that are raw, cooked or ready to eat when you shop, store and prepare.
    • Cook foods thoroughly to the proper temperature.
    • Chill all foods promptly including leftovers.
  • Fortification or supplementation especially for seniors who are trying to stay within a lower calorie range for weight management may be necessary to meet specific needs for the nutrients we all need daily such as calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Caution: do not exceed recommended levels for vitamins/minerals to prevent harmful results.

Seniors need help to make better food choices every day as well as increasing physical activity.  They need opportunities to make these food choices including access to fresh, affordable healthy food.  They need guidance on keeping their food safe and how to handle their food to prevent food borne illness.  Seniors need safe places to participate in physical activities each day such as clear walking paths that are free from hazards, gyms that accommodate their specific needs, and encouragement to participate.   They need information to help guide their daily choices to optimize nutrition to prevent or manage chronic disease.  Information that is reliable and accurate, but also strategies that can help seniors meet their goals, is essential.  Seek out classes for cooking, nutrition, food safety and physical activity in your community that you and your senior can enjoy together.

Achieving the key recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines will help seniors age healthfully.  If you have any questions, tips and comments, please contact us.

Meeting Our Parents — All Over Again!

Many of us are caregivers to our senior parents.  Some of us are trying to do this from a distance and realize that it is very difficult to meet the needs of aging parents that way and still be comfortable that they are safe.

As a result we have decided to move to be nearer our parents or move our parents to be closer to us.

Oftentimes, we have not lived near our parents for decades.  Our contact with our parents throughout our adult lives has been family get-togethers and holiday visits.  We have gone in and out in a flurry of activity spending time with our loved ones in short spurts.  When we have visited, we saw signs of aging that began to worry us forcing us to make some changes.

We may have longed our entire lives to be closer to our parents, to be able to share fun family times and our children’s lives.  We regret the ball games they didn’t get to attend, the birthday parties they weren’t able to participate in over the years as our children were growing up so fast, the school events they missed, and just the day to day activities that make up a family’s existence.

Once we make the decision to live closer the fun begins!  We now are getting to know our parents as adults.  We are experiencing their quirks firsthand.  We are learning what they have been doing to keep themselves busy throughout the day.  We now know what they eat every day and what they refuse to eat.  We are learning things about them that we never knew before.

Some things we are learning we wish we didn’t know.  We are finding out what they think, how easy they share their opinions-good and bad, and how they are really handling their day to day affairs.

Sometimes this information is surprising, scary and leaves us with a feeling of sadness at how much they really have progressed in their aging process that we didn’t notice before.

We are essentially meeting our parents all over again now that we are able to spend more time with them.  If we can look past how they are able (or unable) to care for themselves, we can discover the things we don’t know.  We can talk about the family tree, their early life, things they did when they were young, their plans for their future, their desires as they continue to age, things in our life that they missed and how important having them close by is to you.  We can finally know them as people.

Let’s all grab the gusto and share our lives each day being thankful that we can finally be together.  Some days it might be harder than others, but in the long run, we will be better for the time we shared.

Five Wishes: Seniors Letting Family Know What They Want

Has your senior loved told you what his or her five wishes are? Do you know your five wishes?

Knowing and documenting those wishes can make some of life’s most difficult times a little less stressful for all.

The Five Wishes informs everyone who needs to know one’s desire to age with dignity and be prepared for what comes.

This document, when filled out completely and signed, is valid under the laws of most states.

It is a personal living will that goes beyond the basics and gives the senior loved one and the entire family an abundance of information you may not have discussed yet or thought about discussing. It is easy to fill out with check boxes and short sentences. It will need to be witnessed by two people to be official and in some states is should be notarized.

If you have questions about legalities you should talk it over with your family lawyer.

Five Wishes

Five Wishes, from Aging with Dignity, is a document that spells out what you want your family to know:

  • Who you want to make decisions for you when you can’t
  • What kind of care you want or refuse to want
  • How do you want to be kept comfortable
  • How you want people to treat you
  • What specific information do you want your family to know

Completing this special document will help family members know exactly what is wanted at a critical time, when second guessing about what to do will often puts family members in a difficult position.

Making wishes known can avoid family disputes at a time when loved ones need caring and nurturing instead of worrying about these tough decisions.

If your senior loved one has already written a living will, you can still complete the Five Wishes document. Once it is completed and signed, the old living will becomes obsolete and can be destroyed or revoked. Once this has been done, be sure all  those appropriate know of this new document and how to access it when needed.

Five Wishes Decisions for Seniors

  1. Who will be my health care agent and make decisions for me as well as a second or third choice in case this person is unable to serve when the time comes?
  2. Choose what life supporting treatments you wish to receive-medical devices, tube feedings, blood transfusions, dialysis, CPR.  Be clear and specific when to and when not to provide these treatments.  Do you want to have a Do Not Resuscitate order?
  3. Select areas where you can express how comfortable you wish to be kept such as you don’t want to be in pain.
  4. Pick from choices about how you want people to treat you such as your wish to die at home.
  5. Select from a list of what you want your family to know such as how much you love them.

Once the choices are made, the form completed and family members told about it, the senior should keep a copy of the form where it will be remembered when going to the hospital or other care facility. The original should be kept in a safe place, with copies going to key family members or other caregivers. There is a special wallet card the senior can carry at all times.

Planning for the future and keeping open communication with the entire family about health issues will make this process easier for everyone. It is never too late or too early to complete this form!

We should all consider the questions and make the tough decisions about our personal desires.

Did you do this already in your family and, if so, are you willing to share your story with our readers?  If so, please leave it in a comment!

Vacationing with Senior Loved Ones

Is your senior planning a spring trip or summer vacation?  Are they going alone, with a group of friends, with a church group, with family members or with YOU?

No matter who they go with on a trip, as they age there may be pitfalls for everyone to be prepared to overcome.

What you need to know when you are on a road trip:

  1. Plan, plan and plan.  Know particular laws and customs before you go.
  2. Be sure you are not a victim of crime.  Know where you plan to sightsee and if there are parts of town that you should avoid.  Stay in well-lit areas. Only carry the cash you need in small denominations.   Carry your shoulder bag tucked under your arm and put wallets into front pockets.
  3. Bring the proper clothing and footwear depending on the weather and temperature for the place you will be going.  Ending up in the hospital is no fun time for anyone!
  4. Label your luggage inside and out. Never pack irreplaceable items like medications in your luggage-instead keep with you. Lock your suitcase. Don’t over pack and leave expensive jewelry or family heirlooms at home.
  5. Let someone at home safeguard copies of your documents such as airline tickets, passports, advance directive, driver’s license, medication lists and itinerary.
  6. Travel with emergency phone numbers and contact information for family members.  Keep your important documents with you at all times including medication list with names and dosages as well as an allergy list.
  7. Never leave your car or hotel room unlocked. Store all valuables out of sight.
  8. If traveling abroad, learn a few key phrases in that country’s language such as need help, get police and need medical help or doctor.
  9. Pack an extra pair of eyeglasses in case of loss or breakage.
  10. Select “senior friendly” activities that suit your fitness level and interests.

By planning ahead, preparing for emergencies and staying safe, everyone will relax and enjoy the time of their lives making memories together!

Senior Diets Should Include These Foods – More from the Dietitian

This is the fourth of a series of guest posts from our friends at  We think this is helpful information for both seniors and those who care for them.  Those under a physician’s care, especially seniors, should consult a physician before making significant changes in their diet.

Caregivers of seniors continue to seek ways to improve the well-being of their loved ones. To make the necessary lifestyle changes to improve our health, we will now discuss the “Foods and Nutrients We Need to Increase”.

Chapter four of the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations proposed by the USDA and HHS explores some foods that are readily available to America’s seniors but are seldom consumed in quantities that are needed for optimal nutritional health.  It is important for us to understand that certain vitamins and minerals are needed by our bodies every day to stay healthy.

Key Nutrition Recommendations

  • Increase fruit and vegetable intake
  • Eat a variety of vegetables including dark green, red, and orange vegetables; peas and beans
  • Eat half of your grains from whole grain sources by replacing refined grains with whole grains
  • Increase intake of low fat and fat free dairy products such as  milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Choose a variety of lean protein foods including seafood, lean protein, eggs, poultry, beans, soy products, nuts and seeds
  • Choose seafood in place of some servings of lean protein foods each week
  • Replace protein foods that are high in solid fats with foods lower in solid fats or that provide healthy oils
  • Use oils to replace solid fats and eliminate as much trans fat sources as possible
  • Choose foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D.  Food sources include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy foods.
  • Consume foods fortified with vitamin B12 such as fortified cereals or supplements if needed

The goal is to include these important sources of nutrients while maintaining an appropriate calorie level that won’t result in weight gain but rather weight control.  We can do this by choosing the most nutritious foods each time we eat that are high in nutrients and lower in calories.

Eating More Nutritional Foods

  1. Eat fresh fruits with meals and as snacks and drink only 100% juice. The majority of fruit eaten should be in the whole fruit form for added fiber; juice contains little fiber and many calories if taken in large quantities.  Limit canned fruit in heavy syrup.
  2. Add more beans to your menu such as kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, split peas, lima beans and black eyed peas.  Beans are counted as both vegetables and protein due to their abundance of nutrients.
  3. Eat more whole grains such as popcorn, wild rice, and whole grain cereals, breads and crackers.  Ingredients such as bulgur, oats, buckwheat, barley and whole rye or wheat used in place of refined flour will add fiber and nutrients.  Many nutrients and fiber are removed from refined grains during processing.  If you do eat refined grains, be sure they are enriched.
  4. Eat three servings of low fat or fat free milk and milk products such as yogurt, cheese, milk, and fortified soy milk each day.  If you are lactose intolerant, choose low lactose or lactose free products or take a tablet prior to dairy intake.
  5. Fat in meat, eggs and poultry is referred to as solid fat but the fat in seafood, nuts and seeds is referred to as oils.  Choose lean protein sources and include seafood throughout the week-8 oz. of seafood per week is recommended.  Due to the calories in nuts, these should replace other protein sources instead of taken in addition to current amounts of protein.  Try unsalted nuts to reduce sodium.  Your daily protein goal should be 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men.
  6. Replace solid fats in your diet with oils that are beneficial such as soft margarine instead of stick and vegetable oils in cooking instead of butter.  Always choose foods without trans fat.
  7. Select foods that contain adequate amounts of potassium such as fruits (orange juice, prune juice, bananas), vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes) and white beans, soybeans, and clams.
  8. Aim for a dietary fiber intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men by adding whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grain cereals.  Read the label to be sure the foods you choose are good sources of fiber.
  9. Include sources of calcium and vitamin D every day; supplementation may be needed if you are unable to meet your needs through food sources alone but be sure to check with your doctor first.  Fortified foods can increase your intake of these nutrients without additional dairy foods.   Sunlight is also an excellent way to get vitamin D.
  10. Because it is often difficult for seniors to absorb the B12 they ingest, fortified foods such as cereals are good choices to get enough of this nutrient.  It may be necessary to take supplemental B12 to fully meet your needs.  Check with your doctor to before adding a supplement.

It is important that we eat a variety of foods each day to stay healthy as we age.  Make new choices each day and include foods you haven’t tried lately to help get all the necessary nutrients you may be missing.  Add fresh fruits, nuts and beans to energize your diet!

Be sure to check out the next installment in our series~~Building Healthy Eating Patterns.

We look forward to your questions and comments.

Caregivers, Seniors’ Safety is In Your Hands

This week we celebrate National Patient Safety.  As seniors and those that care for seniors, we are always worried about safety.  We worry our homes are safe, we worry about our seniors driving, we worry about our seniors falling and we worry about our seniors eating right.

We also worry about what could happen to our seniors when they enter the healthcare system whether it is just seeing the doctor, taking medications correctly or going into the hospital.

Safety Tips

The government has given us all some tips that might ease our minds.  As we think about healthcare safety this week, let us review these helpful tips.

  1. Whenever you are involved in healthcare, ask questions and understand the answers.  Feel comfortable talking with your doctor, nurse, caregiver, case manager or pharmacist.  Take someone with you to help you remember the directions and the answers and also to ask questions for you.  If you don’t understand, ask questions until you do.  Your health and well-being are at stake.
  2. If you have to be hospitalized, talk with your doctor about which facility will meet your needs the best.  Do you need a specialist or special equipment? There may be more than one option in your area and you should understand your choices before you go.  While you are there, be sure you or your caregiver understand the paperwork you are asked to sign.  Ask questions if you don’t.  When it is time to leave, be sure you understand all the instructions for your home care before you leave. What medications do you need, will you need special equipment at home, how often do you need to change the bandages and can they get wet in the shower are just a few of the things you need to get clear information about to succeed at home.
  3. Keep a list of all the medications you take, the name and dosages and what time you take them each day.  Bring this with you to doctor’s appointments, the drug store and to the hospital so everyone who cares for you knows what medicine you currently take.  Don’t forget to include over the counter medicines or vitamin supplements including herbal products.  Alert your healthcare provider if you have any allergies! Give these healthcare providers a copy for their records so they can prevent potential interactions.  When you pick up new medications, look at them carefully to be sure they are what the doctor ordered.  Ask the pharmacist if you have any questions about how to take your medicine correctly.  Be aware of any warnings on the label.
  4. If you have any procedures or tests, be sure you understand the directions for what to do before and after the tests.  Get your test results and ask about them if you don’t understand.  If you don’t hear from your healthcare provider after a test, don’t assume there is nothing wrong.  Call the office and ask for your results.  Be sure you understand what the results mean for your care and treatment.
  5. If you need surgery, be sure you clearly understand what it involves.  Talk directly with the surgeon to be sure you both have the same information about the procedure and your expected recovery.  Ask how long it will take and how you will expect to feel afterward.  Be sure everyone involved is aware of your allergies and medications.

You and your loved ones are in control of your safety.  Be educated and aware of your rights and responsibilities when you interact with the healthcare system to stay safe.

Seniors Connect to Technology and Love It!

I had the opportunity recently to speak to a large group of seniors.  They were independent and actively engaged in their community, church and with each other. They come together monthly to share fellowship, friendship, learn something new from a community speaker and enjoy a meal cooked by one of their members.  The group brings with them a wide variety of backgrounds, stories of having traveled around the world and experiences of living in far off places.

I had planned to share my knowledge and experience with the boomers but decided to gain some of their wisdom while I was there.

I asked the group several questions and was surprised with some of their responses.  They replied with a show of hands. See if you are surprised too.

1. How many of you own a computer?  All raised their hands.  Many people think seniors have not embraced computer technology, but not this group.  They are surfing the web frequently and with skill.

2. How many of you send or receive email? Most raised their hands.  We know that many seniors are communicating via email and more are connecting every day.

3. How many of you engage in social media such as Facebook, twitter or some other form? Less than 25% raised their hands and many shook their heads no.  Perhaps they haven’t seen a need yet as the younger generation has, they still use a phone to call their friends and aren’t used to telling the entire world what they ate for lunch.

4. How many of you have skyped? Almost all raised their hands and shook their heads a resounding yes and then the chatter began.  How anxious they became to share their experiences!

I was surprised that so many had not only heard of this technology but were using it regularly.  I asked with whom were they interacting to be told family, children, grandchildren, and friends.  They were closing the geographic gap by visiting electronically frequently with friends and family in other countries.  They were very excited to share their experiences with their web cams and video chatting.  They were thrilled to be able to share not only  photos but real time face to face conversations with people from across the globe.

This group calls themselves hilltoppers.  When I asked the origin of their name they replied “we are on the top of the hill looking over the edge” as we age.  I think that what once was considered old age is now middle age with much life ahead.  I think we all agree that the mountain has been moved.  Engaged, active seniors have much life left to be lived.  I feel privileged to have met them.