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Mealtime Loneliness Is Warning Sign of Nutritional Risk

The warning signs can be easy to ignore. But for older adults living alone, nutritional risks may threaten healthy aging and put seniors in jeopardy of failing to thrive.

That’s why the Home Instead Senior Care® network has launched the Craving CompanionshipSM public-education program to bring attention to the risks of mealtime loneliness, which can lead to depression if not addressed. The campaign includes a variety of resources including tips and practical advice to encourage companionship and easy healthy meals.

Two of five seniors who live alone (44%) have at least four warning signs of poor nutritional health, such as eating alone, illness and taking multiple medications, according to research conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network.

“Nutrition is certainly a key factor to an individual’s overall health and well-being,” said Sandy Markwood, chief executive of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), whose members coordinate the popular home-delivered meals program, also known as “Meals On Wheels®.” When one see warning signs, it’s indicative of a larger risk.

Following, from the Home Instead Senior Care network and Markwood, are warning indicators that a senior who lives alone could be in trouble and that suggestions for ways family caregivers can help.

1.    The loneliness. More than three-fourths (76%) of seniors who live alone eat alone most of the time, according to Home Instead Senior Care network research. Suggestion: Try to make sure an older loved one has companionship at home or in a congregate meal site.

2.    The multiple meds. Nearly three-fourths (71%) of seniors take three or more different medications a day, according to research. Suggestion: Talk to a senior’s healthcare team about how medications might be impacting an older adult’s appetite and discuss with them what to do about it.

3.    The lack of healthful food staples. Nearly half (46%) of seniors who live alone consume few fruits, vegetables or milk products, the survey showed. Suggestion: In season, why not find an affordable local farmer’s market? Talk with an older loved one about his or her favorite recipes that incorporate healthful products.

4.    The illness. Thirty-one percent of seniors in the Home Instead Senior Care research say that an illness or condition has forced them to change the food they eat. Suggestion: Adapting favorite recipes from the recipe box and making mealtime a social event may help.

5.    The physical problems. One-fourth of seniors who live alone–25%–can’t always get to the grocery store any longer, nor can they shop or cook for themselves. Suggestion: The local Area Agency on Aging office has staff to help, and the local Home Instead Senior Care office can arrange for a CAREGiverSM.

6.    That smelly fridge. Check out expiration dates of food in the refrigerator when visiting a loved one. Is food outdated or spoiled? Suggestion: Help a senior by packaging food in small portions and labeling in big letters with the date.

7.    The suspicious grocery list. If Mom’s grocery shopping list is mostly sweets, then she may be headed in the wrong direction with her diet. Suggestion: Help a parent compile a grocery list. Why not buy the ingredients and make that recipe together?

8.    Those important details. When visiting a senior, check out things like 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 a senior is healthy.

9.    The empty cupboard. An emergency could trap a loved one home for days. Suggestion: Prepare by stocking backup food, water and high-nutrition products such as Ensure®, in case a trip to the store isn’t possible.

10.    The support. Isolation is one of the biggest threats to an older adult. Encourage a loved one to invite friends to dinner. Or consider getting home-care assistance to help your loved one with day-to-day tasks when one can’t be there. Meal preparation and companionship are among the many nonmedical services provided by the professional Home Instead CAREGivers.

© 2018, Information Strategies, Inc.
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