Help your parents make nutrition a priority
If your mother is known as a culinary marvel who can whip up everything from extravagant holiday feasts to everyday meatloaf, it’s no wonder you may feel unsettled discovering that her formerly packed-full pantry is bare except for maybe five cans of soup and an expired jar of peanut butter.
This revelation may lead to several distracting questions, such as, are my mom and dad cooking much these days? Are they able to? How can recent changes in eating habits affects their health?
A shocking problem
You’re not alone with this dilemma. The fact is that many seniors have tucked their frying pans away, relying on canned soups or stews, which are loaded with sodium, for sustenance. In extreme cases, some seniors may actually suffer from malnutrition, a condition which can lead to medical problems like fractures caused by falls, fatigue, depression and weight loss.
“I think seniors’ nutrition is often overlooked,” says geriatric nutritionist Rebecca McCullough, who contributed to this e-book on healthy eating for seniors. “Many seniors who live alone don’t enjoy cooking, shopping or eating by themselves. Sometimes, this leads to loneliness or depression that affects their motivation to make food or eat balanced meals.”
These feelings are underscored by the fact that more than 90 percent of seniors plan to continue living in their home and almost half of women over 75 live alone.*
Why your parents may be eating poorly
Seniors often struggle to meet their nutritional needs for a whole slew of reasons. Those on fixed incomes may cut costs by skimping on meat, while some seniors who no longer drive find it more difficult to get to a grocery store. And still other seniors have vision or hearing losses or other physical impairments that make it challenging, or even a little unsafe, to chop vegetables or use a stove.
Medications can also affect nutrition, suppressing the sensation of hunger, producing a persistent bad taste in the mouth or causing nausea. Sore teeth or gums or ill-fitting dentures can also get in the way of healthy nutrition, and late-stage dementia can dramatically affect a senior’s relationship with food and eating.
“A lot of factors can play into a senior’s nutrition like health conditions such as diabetes, loss of a spouse, isolation and depression,” says McCullough, who is the director of nutrition, health and wellness at Holiday Retirement. “Many people only focus on the food aspect, but other aspects are just as important.”
She suggests that people looking for resources to help them manage an aging loved one’s changing appetite should check out the free e-book, “Eating well for an active and healthy retirement.” It thoroughly discusses seniors’ nutrition, providing practical ways older adults can eat better as they age.
How you can help them thrive
McCullough also advises taking the time to figure out why your parents are eating poorly and to come up with solutions together. Possible answers include helping your parents shop and cook or hiring a neighbor or home health care service to do so. Another option is using a meal delivery service like Meals on Wheels. Senior centers or churches often provide group meal programs, which not only offers your mom or dad a healthy meal, but also some time to socialize with others.
Senior living communities are another alternative. In fact, seniors often choose to move to a retirement community after noticing a decline in cooking and eating, explains Sherri Kitchens, Holiday Retirement’s senior director of dining and hospitality. “It’s great to see seniors thrive in our environment, by eating better and trying new healthy foods, like black bean burgers, that they wouldn’t normally try,” she says.
Fresh, healthy and inspired cuisine
At least one of the four to six entrees typically offered in a Holiday Retirement dining room is a “healthy choice,” meaning it’s ideal for those looking for diabetic, heart healthy or gluten friendly meal option.
As a rule, Holiday Retirement chefs avoid high sodium seasonings, instead relying on spices and herbs, which, in some communities, are grown in resident-run gardens. Senior living community chefs also use fresh and seasonal ingredients when possible and adjust menus to meet regional preferences. For instance, meals in Louisiana communities have a definite Creole influence while those in the southwest are often Mexican-inspired.
For dessert, servers provide fresh fruit and cottage cheese in addition to pies and cakes. “A lot of residents still want sweets and hearty meat and potato meals like barbecue brisket,” points out McCullough. “Although we encourage healthy eating, we don’t want to take these favorite foods away.
Making meal time a social time
Another benefit of dining at a senior living community is the social interaction. “Socialization is huge for our residents,” says Kitchens. Meal times are lively and vibrant, with residents often carrying on animated conversations with kitchen staff and servers as well as other residents. “Even if residents aren’t dining with their children or grandchildren they’re still creating memories,” she continues.
Would you like to get practical tips on how your aging parents or loved ones can eat well and prepare healthy food? Download the free e-book, “Eating well for an active and healthy retirement” today.
*Source: The United States of Aging survey