Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke in Assisted Living Facilities

| Monday, March 28, 2011
By Janet Smytherton

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2011, heart disease and stroke are the first and third leading causes of death in the United States.
The best way we can ensure a long and healthy life is to maintain a heart healthy diet. We plan meals for our families with this in mind, just like our parents did for us.But who is planning the heart healthy choices for our senior residents?As seniors become more sedentary with age, they require fewer calories, yet their nutrition needs remain the same. More than ever before, the food choices we make in our advancing years are critical to our continued well-being.

This being true, you would think that assisted living facilities, geared to the needs of elderly residents, would provide heart healthy menu choices.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Instead, they pride themselves on presenting menus that are geared to pleasing future residents, residents and their families, including their children and great grandchildren.
They serve what's popular - from hamburger with fries and soda, to a hot fudge sundae, and everything in between. These less than healthy choices are beautifully prepared and attractively served, but somewhat lacking in meeting the nutritional needs of most seniors.

Do the assisted living facilities meet the nutritional requirements of their senior residents? Seniors who in the past planned nutritious, well-balanced, low-fat and low-sugar meals for their families, are often now eating food that may not be good for them.
Too often, the residents tend to order whatever appeals, or whatever their neighbors are eating, possibly because their ability to make wise choices is impaired by early dementia. Instead, they order whatever sounds good or whatever the others at their table are having.

At the end of the meal, residents who are already quite full are offered attractive desserts that are carried from table to table by the wait staff. It's difficult to say no to desserts that are so attractive.And these desserts frequently have more fat and calories that most people should have in an entire day.

When will assisted living facilities offer low-fat, low-sugar nutritious meals for residents who prefer them? This is something that we all need to work on, and it will take time and effort.

When you visit an assisted living facility, you can ask about the nutritional guidelines used in their meal preparation. Request foods that you know are healthy choices.

If you are considering assisted living for yourself or a loved one:
1. Ask about meal and snack options that can help avoid heart disease, stroke and other complications.
2. Ask if there are plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables available.
3. Ask for foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber.
4. Ask that they limit the use of salt in food preparation and have table salt available only if requested.
5. Ask if they can help residents to monitor their weight weekly.
6. Inquire about daily activities that can help the resident maintain a healthy weight and lower both cholesterol and blood pressure.

The American Heart Association has made this easy by publishing guidelines for the "Heart Check" mark, which indicates compliance in fighting heart disease and stroke.

I am hopeful that heart healthy menu choices will soon be the norm in assisted living facilities rather than the exception.

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