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Growing Older, Eating Better

When Bernadette Harkins of Rockville, Md., could no longer feed herself properly, she moved to an assisted-living residence. Today, she can enjoy three meals a day served to her and about 30 other people in their home-like communal dining room.

When Harry of Moscow, Pa., could no longer feed himself properly, he moved in with his daughter and her family. With her guidance, he ate six times a day, snacking on high-calorie, high-protein foods, and maintaining a near-normal weight.

Harry (who asked that his last name not be used) and Harkins typify many of today's older generation. Living alone in most cases, they often are unable to meet their dietary needs and are forced to make compromises.

Harry didn't know how to cook. He developed cancer, which made it even more important that he eat a well-balanced diet. Harkins knew how to cook but didn't take time to prepare adequate meals for herself.

"I would snack is what I'd do," she said. "I would think about getting a meal and then just have a cup of tea and toast. I knew I wasn't doing the right thing as far as nutrition was concerned."

Their eating problems stemmed from loneliness and lack of desire or skill to cook. Other older people may eat poorly for other reasons, ranging from financial difficulties to physical problems.

The solutions can be just as varied, from finding alternative living arrangements to accepting home-delivered meals to using the food label developed by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Physical activity also is important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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