Aug. 4, 2009
FREDERICTON (CNB) - What can the province's rapidly aging population do to enjoy good health and longevity? Brian Kenny, minister of state for seniors, said today that this is one of the most important questions facing New Brunswickers.
"In 20 years, our senior population is expected to double," said Kenny. "If we want to have a strong, self-sufficient province, we need to take charge of our health. Otherwise, there will be large numbers of New Brunswickers in need of long-term care, and the system may not be sustainable. It is being referred to as the senior tsunami."
The provincial government has made wellness and active living a cornerstone of its long-term care strategy, Be Independent. Longer, which focuses on seniors living independently for as long as possible. In 2008-09, the provincial government invested $1.2 million in a series of initiatives, including community services and supports to keep seniors active and healthy. The provincial government is investing another $1.2 million in 2009-10.
"There are secrets to staying healthy as we age," said Kenny. "We are encouraging New Brunswickers to be informed and to make healthy aging a priority. We have many seniors who are already setting the pace for what we want to achieve."
Of the 113,600 seniors in New Brunswick, about 85 per cent are living independently, without support services.
Jean-Claude Thériault of Paquetville is an example. At age 62, he practises good nutrition, jogs 10 km three times per week, and plays recreational volleyball. He helped inspire the Club de Marche in Paquetville where 40 to 50 seniors get together to walk, exercise or do circuit training.
"It is a mindset," said Thériault. "You make yourself do it, and, before long, you enjoy it. It is amazing what you can do and how good you will feel. Doing a little bit everyday is better than sitting down or being sick."
Another example is Edith Morris of Charlo. At age 75, she is a senior goodwill ambassador, follows a healthy diet, teaches ballroom dancing twice a week, and goes dancing on the weekends.
"Dancing is my passion," Morris said. "It keeps me peppy."
In Fredericton, Ken McGeorge, executive director of the York Care Centre; York Foundation Inc.; and other stakeholders have launched a campaign to establish the Atlantic Institute for Aging. The institute will focus on disease prevention, quality services, innovation and sustainability in senior care. A symposium on aging is planned for September.
"We are witnessing some early signs of the significant increase in demand for services caused by the aging of the Baby Boomer generation," said McGeorge. "However, admission to a nursing home cannot be the only answer. The institute will serve as a focal point for research and sharing best practice information to support the aging population. Through all of this, we desire to help people experience healthy aging by starting on healthy lifestyles earlier in life."
Experts agree that proper nutrition and regular exercise are critical to enjoying good health and independence later in life. Calcium and Vitamin D supplements, high-fibre foods, plenty of fluids, and less sugar, salt, and fat are essential to good nutrition, particularly for seniors.
"Eating well helps you feel your best each day, and it helps prevent the onset of heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer, and osteoporosis," said Lynne MacNeil, a dietary consultant with Social Development. "As we grow older, it becomes even more important to practise a healthy lifestyle. We are better equipped to avoid failing health related to aging."
The benefits of a nutritious diet include stronger muscles and bones, a healthy body weight, increased mental acuteness, higher levels of energy, and a stronger immune system. MacNeil underlined the importance of enjoying a variety of healthy foods such as vegetables and fruit, whole grain and dairy products, fish and lean meats, as recommended in Canada's Food Guide.
For seniors, eating well on a budget or eating alone presents a challenge for proper nutrition. Meals on Wheels programs are a recommended option. Each year, the provincial government invests about $1.8 million in Meals on Wheels.
Tips on nutritious, easy-to-prepare meals for seniors may be found on the Dietitians of Canada website. Family get-togethers, community suppers, potlucks, lunch groups, and supper clubs are suggested for those who eat better when sharing a meal with others.
Active living encourages healthy appetites and wellness in body, mind, and spirit. The Canadian Mental Health Association reports regular physical activity improves sleep and psychological well-being and may reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.
The most popular physical activities for seniors are walking, swimming, gardening, home or group exercise, yoga, and dancing. Seniors are advised to consult a doctor before starting an exercise program. Joining an exercise group, gym, or social club may also help prevent loneliness and isolation, particularly for seniors. Hobbies, volunteer work, and artistic or spiritual endeavours bring balance to life as well.
"Being involved in activity keeps seniors linked to others and promotes a healthy lifestyle," said Shelley Shillington, director of program operations at Loch Lomond Villa in Saint John. "We all need to be responsive to the needs of our aging population. Organizations need to be forward-thinking about integrating plans for age-friendly communities. Keeping connected to families and communities for our seniors is the key to keeping them active. This allows opportunity for them to stay healthy."
More information on healthy lifestyles for seniors may be found on the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults website.
MEDIA CONTACT: Judy Cole, communications, Senior and Healthy Aging Secretariat, 506-444-3522.