“Aging is a different adventure for everyone.”
Brenda Richardson, MA, RDN, LD, FAND
How many times have we thanked a military veteran fro their service? Service is in Brenda Richardson’s DNA…literally. Both her parents served in WWII and service to country and community was distilled in her at an early age. Now in her mid-60s, she is a respected authority in service to the nutritional health of the aging population. In 2019, she was the recipient of one of the highest honors in the nutrition community, the Lenna Francis Cooper Memorial Lecture. I wrote about her lecture (click here for the post) and was excited to interview her on two fronts: one on the challenges currently facing loved ones in long term care facilities and second, to get to know how she eats well, moves well, and stays well on her personal aging journey.
Brenda didn’t start out thinking she would be working in long term care. Instead she started out as music major at the University of Florida. “Financially, college was a challenge, so I auditioned for the army band and became a member of the Adjutant General’s Corp,” she begins. The Adjutant General’s Corp is a branch of the U.S. Army specializing in human resource administration, finance, postal services, music, and recruiting and retention. As a member of the military band she enjoyed travel and service but realized that as much as she loved music, it wasn’t going to be her full-time career. She used the GI bill to go back to college and just by chance she took a nutrition course. She was hooked by nutrition and got a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and institution administration from Western Kentucky University. She completed her path to becoming a registered dietitian by interning at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Back on active duty in the Army Medical Specialist Corp, she worked at Fort Benning and Fort Campbell as the chief of clinical nutrition.
After her second stint in the Armed Forces, she left military service to take a position as the coordinator of food procurement and nutrition education for the Jefferson County Public School System located in Louisville KY that supported approximately 160 schools. While she enjoyed the work in schools, she was drawn to consulting in long-term care facilities and it didn’t take long to transition from school-aged kids to aging adults. As the coordinating director of nutrition for a large LTC corporation, she worked with over 300 nursing centers and 60 hospitals. In 1999, she opened her own business to become an independent contractor in long term care facilities. “It took me 5 years to build the business and I grew my skill set in learning to be my own boss. So many people helped me along the way and I still cherish the mentors, colleagues, and friends who guided my path,” says Richardson.
Challenges of Residents in Long-Term Care
In the introduction, I said I wanted her input on the challenges faced by those of us with family in long-term care during the pandemic. My mother-in-law celebrated her 90th birthday in May and the party we planned was downsized to a visit through the assisted living window. That’s Lila in assisted living in the photo to the right.
“Food is a quality of life issue for those living in any long-term care facility. Food is emotional, comforting, and reassuring and holds great power for all of us. Residents look forward to meals for the social interaction mealtime brings and to assert their independence. During the pandemic, when communal dining was restricted and residents were eating in their rooms, it took a toll on their physical, social, and mental health,” says Richardson. “Each resident has a different relationship to food and staff in the facilities learn to know what residents want to eat, where they want to eat, and what food means to them.” It truly takes a person-centered approach to support meeting their needs. As for the nutritional aspects, yes, nutrients are important, but unless there is an urgent medical reason, we shouldn’t be too restrictive with the diet for residents. When one is 90 years old, we want them to eat, we don’t want to be restrictive.” (Her comments reminded me of a wise physician I worked with who used to say, “when I see a patient who is 80 years old, I ask their advice.”)
I asked her about the frustrations of family who are unable to visit their loved ones because of the pandemic and she replied, “it is a difficult time and research shows that social isolation and loneliness can erode physical and mental health. Stay as connected as you can by phone or video chats, trust that they are being taken care of by staff but check in frequently by phone or email and hold staff accountable.”
Eat Well, Move Well, and Be Well
Now in her mid-60s, Brenda is looking forward to sharpening her professional skills by branching out in a new venture. To do that she knows the importance of taking care of herself, not just others. “I try to eat a balanced diet and I’ve been interested in the MIND diet (MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay; we wrote about the MIND diet last year, click here for the post). I eat plenty of fruits and veggies and I’m trying to get protein at all my meals. As a Southerner at heart, I love peanuts and peanut butter, but I’ve discovered PB2 protein powder to get the protein from peanut butter without the extra calories. I love it in Greek yogurt for a high protein meal or snack.”
As for movement, “it is a challenge when you job requires sitting at a computer most of the day, and especially now, I feel more tied to the computer than ever. But I never say quit, so I keep moving as well as I can. I have a lot of arthritis from previous injuries, but walking, gardening, and woodworking keep me busy, both in body and mind.”
To be well, it comes back to service. “I’ve always been an active volunteer in my professional life and the more I serve, the more I get back. I also focus on faith and spirituality to stay well.”
Three Tips to Aging Well
Brenda leaves us with these three pieces of advice for optimal aging:
- “Know you are. It is never too late to develop your own personal mission statement to provide focus, accountability for decisions and to better discover your sense of purpose in life.
- Stay physically, mentally and spiritually active. Keep moving! Embrace change that is positive for you.
- Treasure your family and friends every day and embrace them.”
Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.
Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved