May is Celiac Awareness Month.
That makes it an excellent time to project our concerns to others regarding our senior years. We can all see it coming (even though we try to ignore it) — the day when we perhaps will need to leave our homes due to age and ill health and move to a care facility. We have experienced the aging of our parents, worked through the process, and now understand how we do not want our lives to unfold.
In recent months, the first wave of Baby Boomers turned 70 years of age and, for the first time in history, seniors outnumber those in the 21 and under age bracket.
Through sheer numbers, the Boomers continue to exert a cultural force in Canada and we of that age need to realize our responsibility to the future. We must set the stage for the generations to follow. We will define senior care purely by our movement through the system and we need to make our requirements known.
Not only will we need more housing and medical care than is presently available, but for those of us with autoimmune diseases, such as celiac, there will be a greater need for nutritional care as well.
Those with celiac disease, who cannot tolerate even the smallest particle of gluten in their bodies, may need to depend on food prepared by under-trained and less-than-knowledgeable employees of care facilities such as seniors residences, assisted living, and/or hospices.
It may seem unimportant to a healthy person but we know from experience that eating out and trusting others to meet our needs can have disastrous consequences.
The Canadian Celiac Association works tirelessly to improve the quality of life for celiac sufferers. Thanks to their efforts, programs are in place to require food labeling to disclose the presence of any allergy causing substances.
They strive to assist restaurants in training and certifying their employees to avoid cross contamination and to provide and oversee the certification of manufactured food produced and sold in grocery stores.
In addition, they educate and assist any who are diagnosed with a gluten related allergy, be it full blown celiac, a gluten sensitivity, dermatitis herpetiformus (the skin manifestation of gluten intolerance), or a wheat allergy.
Efforts are now underway to work with farmers and grain handlers to eliminate cross contamination of alternative (non-gluten containing) grains at the production level. But there is a need for more work to be done.
So, those of you who own and manage senior care facilities (be they private or government run), we put you all on full alert for what lies ahead!
Nutritionists, chefs, cooks, and food servers need be educated to recognize their actions can directly affect the health of those under their care. Even though they may be fully trained to eliminate the gluten from diet of those with celiac disease through direct inclusion or accidental cross contamination, there must also be an awareness of the overall nutritional requirements such as proteins, vitamins, and mineral content of foods needed to repair and revitalize the body. This, of course, is true for all human beings!
Above all, there is a need for nutrient dense, clean, whole food with much variety in taste and appearance in our daily meals to stimulate the desire to consume good food. Recent studies have shown that proper food slows the brain’s aging and promotes overall body health.
In addition, doctors, nurses and staff who are required to prescribe and dispense medications must be aware of the possibility of the inclusion of gluten containing substances as fillers in medications.
Being aware and acting on the requirements of our celiac population must therefore become a concern for all involved. Patients must work to make their needs known and care givers hopefully will work to meet those needs.