Food for Thought: Why Switching to Veganism Can Be an Invaluable Health Choice for Seniors With Disabilities

Advancing in age also means becoming more vulnerable to a long list of diseases and disabilities. But much like other population groups, the elderly may also enjoy the health benefits of switching to a vegan diet. The topic of aging and veganism is not widely studied but here are some of the ways that senior citizens can be assisted with a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts.

Improves mobility

The most common issue for seniors is mobility, more so for disabled ones. The latest accurate US Census data showed that two-thirds of the population reported having difficulty in walking or climbing. There are several reasons for this, such as declining bone health, because aging signals a loss of minerals and calcium in the bones.

While there is no guarantee that brittle bones will be reversed by a vegan diet, Harvard School of Public Health notes that calcium, which is important for improving bone density, is better sourced from plants instead of dairy. The latter has been associated with other illnesses that can also affect the ability of seniors to move around such as diabetes, heart conditions, and cancer. A diet rich with a variety of beans, dark leafy vegetables, grains, and fruits will help seniors reach their daily calcium requirements and might even improve their mobility.

Improves eyesight

Improves Eyesight

There are numerous age-related eye health problems that can cause the diminishing or total loss of vision in the elderly such as macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy. However, BBC News reported that a change in diet can reverse vision impairment that is consistent with aging. Aside from carrots, other types of food to look out for are those that contain three essential chemicals: lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin. These macular pigments can be found naturally in plants such as kiwi, bell peppers, kale, spinach, collard greens, corn, and saffron.

Improves hearing

Improves Hearing

Although little evidence can be found between the relationship of food and hearing, there are several claims that suggest a vegan diet can boost hearing among the elderly. Loss of hearing is another disability that plagues the older generation due to wear and tear of the nerve cells around the ears. Eating more potassium-rich foods such as bananas, melons, and apricots can induce cell interaction in the inner ear as well as protect damage to the cells, nerves, and blood vessels. A similar effect can be experienced with a healthy intake of vitamins C, E, and D which can be found in papaya, red bell peppers, kiwi, and broccoli as well as supplements. Additionally, flax and chia seeds, walnuts, olive and coconut oil, and beans will provide the essential omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation in the ears.

Improves brain health

Improves Brain Health

Another topic that merits a deeper investigation is the relationship of food with brain-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, although some evidence of a positive link have been found. Health IQ cited the preliminary findings of a study that examined adults who eat meat and those who don’t. Careful observation led researchers to conclude that those who follow an omnivorous diet are twice as likely to experience the onset of dementia. Living Life With Dignity recognizes that dealing with the condition is equally difficult for the afflicted elderly and those who care for them, which is why finding ways to delay or completely prevent it is a priority.

Seniors and caregivers alike should get informed and consult with a physician before making a decision. The aforementioned benefits still depend on many factors such as the accessibility of plant-based food for the seniors or the intensity of their disability. However, it is never too late for the elderly to take charge of their life by converting to a healthier alternative when it comes to food choices.

Dementia and Guardianship

Dementia

1 in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. Of the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, an estimated 5.2 million people are age 65 and older, and approximately 200,000 individuals are under age 65 (younger-onset Alzheimer’s). One in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease. By mid-century, someone in the United States will develop the disease every 33 seconds. Guardianship of adults suffering from Dementia can become necessary when the adult becomes incapable of making decisions for themselves and they don’t have a Power of Attorney in place. See What is the Difference between Guardianship and Power of Attorney?

Caring for a loved one with dementia comes with a unique set of challenges, including issues such as harm to self. For example, an individual might set a fire while cooking or become a wander risk or begin to think someone is going to harm them or is breaking into their home. See Practical Advice on Caring for a Parent with Dementia

Typically, as the disease progresses, it becomes more emotionally and physically draining for the caregiver who often reaches a breaking point. When focusing on the negative, it can become exhausting and overwhelming. See Recognizing the Signs of Caregiver Burnout

It’s important to find supportive services such as those offered by Living Life with Dignity before this point is reached. The volatility of the disease can make situations dangerous and upsetting. Depending on the progression or type of dementia, needs can change rapidly. For many, it is a full time commitment. See Dementia and Caregiving Challenges and What is a Health Directive for Dementia?

Case Study

Living Life with Dignity was appointed Guardian of and Advocate for an 83-year-old female suffering from Dementia.

Background

She was a retired nurse living alone, estranged from her adopted son and raising her deceased daughter’s son. The female, having lived in her current home for 60 years, had her neighbors all rally to help. Her phonecalls to the neighbors started to become erratic and she became acutely paranoid that someone was trying to break into her home. She refused having a caregiver and expressed her desire to fire her attorney and Power of Attorney. Upon contacting a new attorney, it became obvious to the attorney that the client needed intervention and guardianship.

Services

Living Life with Dignity was called in and we provided the following services for the client:

Also see: This Job Sucks! Choosing the right Power of Attorney is imperative

Depression: Top Mental Health Threat to Seniors

Depression - Top Mental Health Risk to SeniorsDepression is NOT an inevitable part of aging. Changes that accompany later life – retirement, the death of loved ones, increased isolation, medical problems – can sometimes lead to mental health issues like depression. Depression prevents elderly loved ones from enjoying life. Aside from mood, depression impacts energy, sleep, appetite, and physical health.

Depression in later life frequently coexists with other medical illnesses and disabilities. Because of changes in an elderly person’s circumstances and the fact that elderly people are expected to slow down, doctors and family members may miss the signs of depression. Depression tends to last longer in elderly adults. It doubles their risk of cardiac diseases and increases their risk of death from illness. At the same time, depression reduces an elderly person’s ability to rehabilitate. Also see Late Life Depression, Late-onset Depression and Dementia

In order to pro-actively provide support it helps to be able to recognize the signs of depression in an elderly person, such as expressing feelings of hopelessness or sadness that don’t go away and loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed.

Causes and risk factors that contribute to depression in the elderly include:

  • Loneliness and isolation – Living alone; a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation; decreased mobility due to illness or loss of driving privileges.
  • Diminished sense of purpose – Feelings of purposelessness or loss of identity due to retirement or physical limitations on activities.
  • Health problems – Illness and disability; chronic or severe pain; cognitive decline (dementia/alzheimer’s); damage to body image due to surgery or disease.
  • Medications – Many prescription medications can trigger or exacerbate depression.
  • Fears – Fear of death or dying; anxiety over financial problems or health issues.
  • Recent bereavement – The death of friends, family members, and pets; the loss of a spouse or partner.

Here are some steps recommended by HelpGuide.org that can help your loved one overcome the symptoms, no matter the challenges they face:

  • Encourage them to learn new skills, try new activities, or make fresh lifestyle changes. The human brain never stops changing, so older adults are just as capable as younger people of learning new things and adapting to new ideas.
  • Exercise. Physical activity has powerful mood-boosting effects. In fact, research suggests it may be just as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression. Even if they are ill, frail, or disabled, there are many safe exercises they can do to build strength and boost their mood—even from a chair or wheelchair.
  • Facilitate opportunities to connect with others, face to face whenever possible. Getting the support they need plays a big role in lifting the fog of depression and keeping it away. If you cannot get them out to socialize, invite loved ones to visit them or keep in touch over the phone or email.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food. Encourage healthy foods that provide nourishment and energy, as well as taking a daily multivitamin.
  • Foster participation in activities they enjoy. Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes that bring or used to bring them joy.
  • Encourage them to Volunteer. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better and expand their social network.
  • Create opportunities to laugh. Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy, or read a funny book.

Make sure they get a checkup with their doctor and talk to their pharmacist regarding drug side effects and/or interactions, as symptoms of depression can also occur as part of medical problems such as dementia or as a side effect of prescription drugs.  Watch for suicide warning signs. Seek immediate professional help if you suspect that your loved one is thinking about suicide.

There is help for seniors who are dealing with depression. Be open about asking for professional help. There are experts who deal with these issues and know how to help. For more information visit Helpguide.org

Also see:

For other helpful caregiving resources visit AlongComesGrandpa.com

Written by Author and Keynote Speaker Sue Salach-Cutler. Sue has a Master’s degree in Gerontology and has worked in the healthcare field for over 25 years.  She is the Author of “Along Comes Grandpa”, a caregiving resource guide, and the novel “If I Walked in Her Shoes”. Her programs and books provide the vital resources needed to help family caregivers as they maneuver through the caregiving journey. Find out more about her books and programs here: CaregiverLife.com.  Adapted from: https://theworkingcaregiver.org

10 ways to Maintain Your Brain© from The National Alzheimer’s Association

  1. Head first: Good health starts with your brain. It’s one of the most vital body organs, 10 ways to keep your brain healthyand it needs care and maintenance.
  2. Take brain health to heart: Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.
  3. Your numbers count: Keep your body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol and blood sugar levels within recommended ranges.
  4. Feed your brain: Eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet that features dark-skinned vegetables and fruits; foods rich in antioxidants; vitamins E, C and B-12; foliate; and omega-3 fatty acids.
  5. Work your body: Physical exercise keeps the blood flowing and encourages new brain cells. It doesn’t have to be a strenuous activity. Do what you can – like walking 30 minutes a day – to keep both body and mind active.
  6. Jog your mind: Keeping your brain active and engaged increases its vitality and builds reserves of brain cells and connections.  Read, write, play games, do crossword puzzles.
  7. Connect with others: Leisure activities that combine physical, mental and social elements may be most likely to prevent dementia.  Be social, converse, volunteer, join.
  8. Heads up! Protect your brain: Take precautions against injuries. Use your car seat belts; un-clutter your house to avoid falls; and wear a helmet when cycling.
  9. Use your head: Avoid unhealthy habits. Don’t smoke, drink excessive alcohol or use street drugs.
  10. Think ahead – start today! You can do something today to protect your tomorrow.

For more information and tips visit: http://www.alz.org