Age well for the health of it

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The hallway of Centrepointe Theatre in Ottawa was filled with bright dresses and diverse languages on Saturday, October 30th. The crowd, whose average age was 65, gathered to attend a forum aimed at newcomer seniors.

Although this is the first time that several immigrant services in Ottawa, together with volunteer organizations and the city public health department organized the forum, over a hundred people showed up despite the cold and rainy weather.

The purpose of the forum is to explain to immigrant-seniors health resources available to them, to better integrate into the community.

Marcelle Helou, a 65-year old from Lebanon, says older newcomers don’t integrate with the population and don’t know about the resources available to them because they don’t speak English or French. “They come – they don’t speak the language, they don’t watch TV. They don’t speak with anybody. How will they know about healthcare in Canada?

They can’t, right? They have to read, to see, or somebody needs to tell them what the system of the country is. It’s harder for people who are older to learn language and culture.”

Meanwhile, and according to Ottawa Public Health nurse Lise Tessier, statistics show that 60 percent of seniors living in Ottawa are inactive. One in 3 adults over the age of 65 falls every year. “It means that we have a lot more people getting into emergency room. One senior visits the emergency department in Ottawa every 30 minutes,” says Tessier.

To avoid emergency room charges, Tessier recommends newcomer seniors to follow these five health rules:

Take charge of your health
Keep a diary with your health information, sometimes it’s easy to forget something. Ask your doctor any questions you have, even if you think they might sound “stupid”. Bring a list of your medications along when visiting your doctor. Ask about diets, especially if it is a new diet for you in a new country.

Eat Well
According to Tessier, research has shown that 30 percent of older adults living on their own suffer from malnutrition. “You can have medication that can affect our taste or smell – so everything tastes the same. You have to be careful about trying to eat well. Our emotions play a big role here: if you are alone, if you are not socially connected, it can truly affect the way you eat,” she says.

Stay active
You don’t have to be registered at a gym to stay active. “Walking, keeping a garden – a lot of those activities can help us stay active,” says Tessier. But make sure to consult with a doctor before you start an exercise program. Endurance activities, like walking, strength, balance, and flexibility exercises reduce your risk of falling.

Prevent Falls
Tessier says falling is dangerous, because once you have suffered a fall, your “odds of getting caught in a vicious circle are very high: afraid of falling again, you decrease your activity, and if you are not active, you lose both your strength and mobility. Then, if you are not as active as used to be, you increase your risk of falling again. Once you had a fall, you should try and be more active, a bit more mobile,” says Tessier.

Cold and icy Canadian winters don’t have to be an obstacle to daily exercise: there are assistive devices for winter, like ice breakers that can be clipped on your shoes to prevent a fall.

Stay connected
“There’s a link between physical and psychiatric illness and how we respond to illness,” says Tessier. Loneliness has been found to be associated with a lot of problems. To avoid it, stay connected to family and friends.

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