Canadian seniors like family meals but they often eat alone, according to a study conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network, which showed that lack of the shared family experience, including companionship, is the biggest mealtime challenge for seniors.
Home Instead, a provider of non-medical care services for seniors in their own homes and in care facilities, surveyed Canadians age 75 and older who live alone in their own homes to measure mealtime routines, challenges and preferences.
The study found almost half of respondents (46%) had at least four warning signs of poor nutritional health. According to the research, the most common of these warning signs and their incidence rates are:
• eating alone most of the time (76%);
• taking three or more different medications a day (67%);
• eating few fruits, vegetables or milk products (36%);
• experiencing tooth or mouth problems that make it hard to eat (29%).
“We know from experience that many families live too far away or don’t have the time to help their aging parents,” Paul Tjosvold, owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office in Port Coquitlam, said in a press release.
“But our research shows that seniors eat more nutritiously when family and friends are around. They really enjoy having that connection with someone, whether it’s a family caregiver or a professional caregiver.”
An overwhelming majority of senior respondents (88%) said having someone to share their meals with makes those times more satisfying. And more than half (53%) said their mealtimes are more satisfying if they have someone prepare meals for them.
But those same seniors also said several factors get in the way of mealtime companionship, the most common including not being able to drive (23%), family/friends don’t have enough time (22%), and family/friends live too far away (17%).
Carol Greenwood, a nutritionist and professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto, has done extensive research on nutrition as it relates to seniors and says the social aspect of eating is even more important than good nutrition.
“There is no question that having meals with other people in a group setting is preferable to eating alone,” she said in the press release. “Seniors who eat alone often have an underlying isolation and depression and lack of social engagement. This leads to low quality of life and a more rapid decline as they age.”
Greenwood said meals help maintain social networks for seniors and this is crucial to their overall state of health and well being.
NUTRITION WARNING SIGNS FOR SENIORS
Nearly half (46%) of Canadian seniors who live alone have at least four warning signs of poor nutritional health such as eating alone, taking multiple medications and illness, according to research conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network.
Following, from the Home Instead, are warning indicators that a senior could be in trouble along with suggested solutions:
• Loneliness: More than three-fourths (76%) of seniors who live alone eat alone most of the time, according to the research. (Suggestion: Try to make sure your older loved one has companionship at home or in a congregate meal site.)
• Multiple meds: About two-thirds (67%) of seniors take three or more different medications a day, according to research. (Suggestion: Talk to your senior’s health care team about how medications might be affecting appetite and discuss with them what to do about it.)
• Illness: Many older adults struggle with conditions of aging. Some don’t feel like eating as a result. (Suggestion: Discover favourite recipes from the recipe box and make mealtime a social event.)
• Lack of healthy staples: About a third (36%) of seniors who live alone consume few fruits, vegetables or milk products, the survey revealed. (Suggestions: In season, find an affordable local farmers’ market and talk with the senior about their favourite recipes that incorporate healthy products.)
• Physical problems: Nearly half (46%) of seniors who live alone receive outside help with mealtime activities such as grocery shopping. (Suggestion: If your senior can’t get to the store, contact a company that provides such a service, such as Home Instead, and/or tap into neighbours and compassionate friends. If you know of older adults who live alone, cook extra at mealtimes and take it to them.)
• Smelly fridge: Check out expiration dates of food in the refrigerator when you’re visiting a loved one. (Suggestion: Help a senior by packaging food in small portions and labelling in big letters with the date.)
• A suspicious grocery list: If you go to the store for Mom and the list is mostly sweets, she may be headed in the wrong dietary direction. (Suggestion: Help her put together a grocery list reminding her of all the wonderful foods she used to cook for you, then buy the ingredients and make that recipe together.)
• Important details: When you’re visiting a senior, watch for indicators such as skin tone — it should be healthy looking and well-hydrated — as well as any weight fluctuations. (Suggestion: A visit to the doctor can help ensure your senior is healthy.)
• Empty cupboards: An emergency could trap a loved one home for days. (Suggestion: Prepare by stocking back-up food, water and high-nutrition products such as Ensure in case a trip to the store isn’t possible.)
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