Adequate nutrition is crucial for healthy aging. Older adulthood often brings many social and health changes that can make it difficult to sustain a healthy diet. A recent article identified strategies used by community-dwelling older adults who demonstrate dietary resilience—maintaining healthy nutrition in the face of dietary challenges.
There are many changes associated with aging that can lead to poor nutrition, such as physiological changes in appetite regulation, new limitations to mobility that can make acquiring food more challenging, and reduced social networks, particularly widowhood. There is a good deal of research highlighting the health risks of reduced food intake, but little is known about factors that can contribute to good dietary habits among older adults. The authors propose the concept of dietary resilience in order to encourage researchers and practitioners to enhance our collective understanding of how to encourage healthy eating throughout the life course.
The researchers recruited 30 individuals who were part of the Québec Longitudinal Study on Nutrition and Successful Aging (NuAge), which is a stratified sample of older adults drawn from the Medicare database of the Canadian province of Québec. Twenty of the participants were classified as “resilient eaters,” and maintained or improved the quality of their diet over the three-year study period, while the remaining ten showed “diet vulnerability,” or were unable to maintain a nutritious diet. The majority of the participants were culturally French-Canadian and ranged in age from 68 to 86.
The article identifies four core themes that were articulated by resilient eaters. Prioritizing eating well and doing whatever it takes to keep eating well were motivations expressed by resilient eaters who consciously made efforts to maintain a good diet. Some focused on the pleasure of good eating, while others stated that they were driven more by health goals. Being able to do it yourself or getting help when you need it were two themes relating to the resources needed to maintain dietary resilience.
As the authors note, being able to eat well depends on having certain resources, particularly a combination of knowledge, skills, health, mobility, and adequate finances. Individuals without these resources need to rely on either formal services, such as commercial or government agencies, or informal support that friends and family may provide. For many, there is a stigma attached to needing outside assistance, so the authors recommend that practitioners and policy makers remind the public and individuals of the occasional need for support.
This article outlines several strategies used by a sample of community-dwelling older adults to maintain dietary resilience. Such research provides practitioners and researchers with tools to help overcome barriers to healthy eating such as food apathy, social isolation, and insufficient resources.
Vesnaver E, Keller HH, Payette H, and Shatenstein B (2011). Dietary resilience as described by older community-dwelling adults from the NuAge study—“If there is a will, there is a way!” Appetite [epub ahead of print].