As our population ages, I’m terrified. I’m not just scared of growing old. I mean, that itself is terrifying. Right now we have our grandma into a home for those with dementia. It’s really sad. She can’t remember who she is, or to wash her hands. What if I forget that I have to be gluten-free? What if I forget that I have celiac?
But even if I’m of sound mind and body until I’m old and saggy (hoping to keep my wits about me), who will care for me? Who can care for me with safe gluten-free food? Who can care for an aging autoimmune patient outside of a hospital?
It’s all so scary. Also, I’m going to need a LOT of botox.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. Something that my parents argue with me. What’s the point? You’ve lived your life up to this point, why go gluten-free now? Is it even worth it going gluten-free past 60? Past 70?
Yes, according to Celiac Disease Foundation. “Some question whether it is meaningful to detect celiac disease in the elderly population, especially when the symptoms are mild, arguing that the adoption of a strict, gluten-free diet is a difficult lifestyle change. The researchers from this study, however, maintain that correctly diagnosing these patients is worthwhile, as the available evidence suggests a significant improvement in quality of life on a strict, gluten-free diet. Notably, this improvement in quality of life has been demonstrated even in seemingly asymptomatic elderly patients.”
I’m so happy that Delicious Living wrote about this topic in their article “Going Gluten Free as a Senior”
As awareness of gluten issues grow, more and more people – including seniors – are being diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten allergies. While learning to live a gluten-free lifestyle can be daunting to anyone, it provides unique challenges to seniors over age 65.
How Can They Care For Gluten-Free Seniors?
One of the biggest problems gluten-free seniors face is finding an assisted living or long-term care community that can accommodate their specific dietary needs.
Communities that provide long-term care must provide a diet prescribed by a doctor, but assisted living and retirement facilities do not, Ronni Alicea, a dietician specializing in gluten-free diets in healthcare facilities, said to the Gluten-Free & More website. If you stray outside locations like this, it’s a toss-up. My grandmother’s home doesn’t have a specific diet lined up, although meals are home cooked by the residential facility’s owners. What happens if they were to take in a senior with food allergies or celiac disease? Would this person, who is just running a senior home, have to become an expert then in specialty diets too? What if we couldn’t afford a assisted living home that had chefs that understood what gluten meant? See what I mean about terrifying?
So what are you looking for when you visit retirement communities or senior living options? Here are some key questions from Gluten Free & More Magazine.
Are They Willing To Make Gluten-Free Food?
Discuss how proper preparation of the food (e.g., using a dedicated gluten-free toaster) is as important as the food itself, says Alicea. They may tell you they don’t want that responsibility. Others will say they handle special diets and food allergies all the time, no problem.
Does the Kitchen Get Gluten-Free?
Obviously, this is a great sign if they’re already preparing gluten-free meals for others, says Alicea. However, see if you can talk to those residents about their experience. Make sure they’re happy.Many of the same principals of kitchen safety for food allergy apply to celiac disease. In fact, you want staff to treat celiac disease as seriously as they would an anaphylactic food allergy, says Alicea. Find out how they minimize cross contamination when cooking for residents with food allergies. Take a tour of the kitchen and see how clean it is. With procedures and training systems already in place for food allergy, the gluten-free diet should be easier to implement.
Are They Willing To Purchase Gluten-Free Staples?
Find out in advance how this will be handled. Should you stock these staples for your gluten-free senior, or do they have a pantry available? Do they know how to purchase specialty diet products? You don’t want to be surprised by added costs or the responsibility of having to supply gluten-free food if you think it should be covered under the traditional meal plan.
Have a Conversation
“You have to talk to the people in charge of the food – the dining coordinator or dietitian or the staff on consult,” says Anderson, who recommends that you “don’t just ask, ‘can you do gluten-free.’” Instead, ask them to walk you through a week’s worth of menus. Also ask to speak to other gluten-free residents who can tell you straight out if the food is good, if the community really sticks to a gluten-free menu and if there is variety and a lot of options so you won’t get bored.
Are There Safe Spaces Out There?
Yes, but they are far too few and far between. With 1:100 people with celiac disease, I’ve only been able to find a few that are actually trained to be gluten-free. That’s it? Grandview Terrace in Sun City West, Arizona, and GenCare Lifestyle communities in Arizona and Washington are all gluten-free certified. But that’s not enough. Do you know of any safe places for gluten-free seniors?
Thank you to New Hope Network’s Delicious Living and Gluten Free & More Magazine for this conversation and content about gluten-free seniors and gluten-free senior living! I am a New Hope Network blogger and currently employed with Gluten Free & More magazine.