Are the Seniors in Your Life Eating Well?
Eating well is important at every age, but health issues and physical limitations can sometimes make it difficult for older adults to get the nutrients they need for a healthy diet. Did you know that malnutrition and poor nutrition occur in 15% to 50% of our senior population? The symptoms - weight loss, disorientation, lightheadedness, lethargy, and loss of appetite - are often mistaken for illness or disease.
Many seniors don’t eat as well as they should for a variety of reasons. Arthritis makes cooking difficult. Many medications reduce appetite making food unappealing. One study found that 30% of seniors skip one meal a day, while another revealed that 16% of seniors eat less than 1,000 calories a day. This is insufficient to maintain adequate nutrition. Seniors may skip meals for a variety of reasons - forgetfulness, financial limitations, depression, dental problems, loneliness or frailty, to name a few.
Pay attention and ask questions if you are concerned that someone you care about is not eating well. Encourage them to talk openly and honestly and assure them that they are not a burden to you or anyone else.
Appetites often decrease as we age, a decline in the sense of smell and taste affects a person’s ability to taste and enjoy food. Medications can reduce appetite, cause nausea or make food taste differently. Dental problems can make chewing painful. Shopping may be difficult, particularly in bad weather. Physical pain and poor strength can make simple tasks like opening a can too challenging. Dementia and poor memory can affect a person’s ability to eat a variety of foods and remember what to buy at the store. Loneliness and depression can take a toll and decrease a person’s appetite.
Eating Well Tips
Since many older adults do not eat as much as they should, it is very important that the food they do eat is as nutritious as possible! Appealing foods will help to stimulate their appetites. Make eating a social event - most people do not enjoy cooking for just one person and will opt for convenience foods instead. Encourage healthy snacking, especially for those who aren’t hungry enough to eat three meals a day. Take care of dental problems to make sure eating is not painful. Keep extra food on hand, particularly if weather or health problems make it difficult to get groceries.
Check out your local senior centers. Many have home delivered meal programs like Meals on Wheels, and some have Congregate Meal Programs with lunches served at the center twice a week for a suggested donation. The Rocky River Senior Center offers a Deli Lunch ,Monday through Fridays, which is served between noon and 1 p.m. A choice of soups, salads, sandwiches, a daily “special”, desserts and beverages are offered. It is not necessary to be a resident to participate in these lunch programs.
Studies show a balanced diet and physical activity contribute to a higher quality of life and enhanced independence as you age, and isn’t that what we all want?
Deborah (Bock) Capstick is the Director of Senior Services for the City of Rocky River. She has a B.A. in psychology and M.A. in counseling. For the last 13 years, Deborah has worked with seniors in North Olmsted, Bay Village and Rocky River.