Spicing up seniors’ lives

A new program designed to boost the nutritional status of senior citizens is spicing up life for residents at a seniors’ centre in Guelph Ontario. The nutritionist in charge of the pilot program says it has implications right across Canada.

The nutrition program started last fall at the Evergreen Seniors’ Centre in Guelph. It’s led by Heather Keller, a professor in Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph. Seniors at the home are advising her team.

The program aims to make seniors more aware of the importance of proper nutrition. It also encourages seniors to take their health into their own hands. Resources, workshops and individual counselling are used to relay nutrition and health information to them from expert sources.

“This program is designed to meet the nutritional needs of the elderly,” says Keller. “The Evergreen members have let us know what their needs are, and now we’re trying to meet them. I hope the program will serve as a template for other service providers in this field so that seniors’ needs don’t go unaddressed.”

Seniors’ nutrition problems
A nutritional survey of Evergreen Seniors’ Centre members revealed at more than half of the respondents were at nutritional risk. The questionnaire identified four problem areas:

  • Low fruit and vegetable consumption;
  • Cooking difficulties stemming from physical limitations and lack of motivation;
  • A lack of awareness of the overall importance of proper nutrition and the consequences of poor nutrition;
  • Specific disease conditions that limit food intake and choices.
  • Keller says these nutrition problems are common with seniors across Canada.

Survey conducted
Keller worked with the Evergreen seniors over a two-year period to develop a questionnaire. This questionnaire led to collaboration with several other professors at Guelph. They designed a one-year pilot nutrition education project and received support from the Danone Institute.

The program developers encouraged seniors to voice their concerns and contribute ideas. Members of the Evergreen Centre were involved in planning groups that identified unmet needs and considered activities that could help meet them. Out of this effort, the professors and the seniors created the nutrition pilot program.

Counselling, cooking advice
The program uses a variety of approaches to address nutrition issues.

  • A resource person is at the seniors’ centre 15 hours a week to answer questions and distribute reading materials.
  • Monthly workshops are held to address specific issues relating to the needs and interests of the seniors.
  • Individual nutrition counselling is available to all members. This is especially helpful to those with specific dietary demands due to disease.
  • Finally, cooking demonstrations are offered to encourage members to cook nutritious meals.

“The response has been great,” says Keller. “Some of the members already seem happier and more enthusiastic and energetic.”

She plans to have the program thoroughly evaluated at the end of this year and hopes to obtain funding to continue the program for a few more years.

This article is reprinted from the University of Guelph periodical Research.