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10 Mealtime Challenges That Threaten Healthy Aging

Family caregivers who arrive at an older loved one’s home around mealtime to find Mom or Dad eating toast for dinner shouldn’t be surprised.

Seniors who live alone with lack of companionship and are faced with the prospect of cooking for one, often don’t eat as they should.

A recent Home Instead Senior Care® network survey discovered that the biggest mealtime challenge for older people who live alone is lack of the shared family experience, including lack of companionship.

Family caregivers know how difficult it can be to ensure older adults are eating properly. Seniors may face multiple challenges when it comes to the pursuit of good nutrition. Illnesses and diseases can damp taste buds. Seniors on multiple medications or recovering from an illness may lose interest in eating. The conditions of aging sometimes make shopping and preparing food difficult. And then there’s loneliness.

That’s why the Home Instead Senior Care network has launched the Craving CompanionshipSM public-education program. The program is designed to help family caregivers make the most of mealtimes with seniors, thereby combating loneliness and the challenges that many face at mealtimes.

“Helping a senior loved one through the mealtime experience is vital to their health,” says Jeff Huber, president and chief operating officer of Home Instead Inc., the franchiser of the Home Instead Senior Care network. “But that support must extend beyond the meal-planning and preparation tasks. There’s another important ingredient in the recipe for senior nutrition that should be part of the process from beginning to end. That is companionship.”

In the United States, approximately 40% of the population age 75 and older – 6.7 million people – live alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And one in five seniors says he or she sometimes or most of the time feels lonely when eating alone, according to Home Instead Senior Care research. The most common obstacles that prevent these seniors from sharing more meals are that family or friends don’t have enough time (28%), family or friends live too far away (20%), the senior doesn’t drive (17%) and that the older adult is never asked to dine with anyone (13%).

Top on the list of 10 senior mealtime challenges are lack of companionship and cooking for one. If a family caregiver can’t dine with an older adult, look for alternatives such as friends or neighbors.

Check out special activities at churches and senior centers as well as the local area agency on aging and Home Instead Senior Care resources. To assist seniors who are challenged by the notion of cooking for one, buy healthier low-sodium dinners for one. Freeze most any type of leftovers, including sliced and seeded fruit, by placing it in plastic containers or freezer bags.

“Family caregivers in tune with seniors’ needs will help ensure that a senior mealtime challenge doesn’t become a caregiving crisis,” Huber says.

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