Senior Worries Move Might Limit Access to Healthy Diet

November 20, 2012
Gluten-free senior
After years of effort, Carol Tansey, the 82-year-old author of two gluten-free cookbooks, finally has access to gluten-free food at her seniors’ residence. Now she worries that they’ll move her and she’ll have to start training staff all over again.

Carol Tansey should be happy. Five years ago, she spent six months lying in a hospital bed after seven different strokes took away all movement and reason. Today her hands shake and she has to use a wheelchair, but her speech has returned, she’s able to write again and she’s taught herself to use a computer. “My brain came back,” she says.

Since her recovery, she’s written two popular recipe books for those who suffer from gluten intolerance: “100 Gluten Free Soups,” which came out in April 2010, and “43 Gluten Free Dinners,” which came out in April 2011.

Yet financial and dietary struggles sometimes become too much for her. “Fifteen times, I have stopped eating and drinking,” she says. “I simply did not want to live anymore.”

Many of her frustrations came from a struggle to obtain a balanced gluten-free diet at the Father Dowd Home, where Tansey has lived for the past four-and-a-half years.

Tansey began a gluten-free diet in 1994, after a dietician recommended the move to eliminate stomach pain, gas and alternating diarrhea and constipation. When she was moved to the long-term health facility after her strokes, however, the facility demanded a doctors’ certificate to maintain the regimen, something Tansey had never received. It took months for the senior to find a doctor and submit to tests. She finally underwent a gastroenterology last January, without medication because doctors were worried that anesthesia would trigger another stroke.

Since the Father Dowd management got the results from that test earlier this year, meals have improved, although Tansey still receives bread on her plate occasionally. “One day, I was served a lunch of a large white round bun, which was replaced by a long white bun, which was replaced by a brown bread sandwich.”

“Institutions like this need in-service information to make sure that everyone knows the importance of providing gluten-free food to people who need it,” says Margaret Duthie, a volunteer from the Celiac Association of Canada, who occasionally visits Tansey with gluten-free goodies. “Even when kitchen staff is fully trained, someone else might add a roll to a plate not knowing that it can cause severe health problems in some people.”

Now that employees at the Father Dowd Home have learned to be more careful about Tansey’s meals, she fears that she might be moved from the full-care centre to an intermediate centre elsewhere in the system. “The kitchen here usually does very well by me at last,” she said. “I just can’t face beginning the fight for gluten-free again.”


Note: This story appeared on p10 of the Suburban on Wednesday, November 14, 2012.

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Tracey Arial

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Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.

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