Improving Senior Nutrition: “Let’s Have Lunch”

By Denise S. Pott, LCSW

Assistance Home Care

Despite living in an area that offers so many meal options, the fact is that many seniors do not get adequate nutrition. It is estimated that up to one million homebound seniors are malnourished. This can lead to decreased weight and strength, lessened immunity to disease, confusion, and disorientation. Malnutrition exacerbates frailty and debilitation, causing families and loved ones greater worry and concern, as well as more time and energy spent in caregiving. This applies to seniors in all socioeconomic groups.

Did you know that the reasons older people may be poorly nourished can be as basic as too little money or as complex as disease, cognitive impairment, too many medications (some seniors take 10 or more medications!), or diminished physical or mental capabilities.

Some additional factors that contribute to inadequate nutritional intake among older people are listed below:

  • Many older adults who live alone feel that it is not worthwhile to prepare meals for just one person. In addition, many seniors who are socially isolated become depressed, which can cause diminished appetite.
  • Many older people, especially the most frail and vulnerable, have functional impairments and are unable to shop for groceries or cook for themselves. Some are unable to stand long enough to prepare a meal, to lift pots or stir ingredients, or just lack the endurance required to complete a meal.
  • Many seniors have lost their natural teeth or have decayed teeth that cause pain, and many others have ill-fitting dentures. Problems with chewing and swallowing are common and have been linked to malnutrition.
  • Older adults take more medications than any other age group. Medications can cause loss of appetite, reduced or altered taste and smell, painful swallowing, nausea, and can affect the body’s absorption and use of nutrients.

No wonder so many older adults are malnourished! It’s important to check with the physician, pharmacist, and dentist to determine whether any of the problems listed above may be affecting your loved one, and to address any problems that may be noted. Hydration is another important factor; getting enough fluids is as important as getting good nutrition. But what else can be done to improve the situation?

There are several approaches you can take:

  • First, try to make mealtime more stimulating. If you can manage it, share a meal together a few times each week. Enlist family members to take turns visiting and sharing lunch, dinner, or even breakfast with your loved one. If that is not an option, perhaps the chance to have a communal noontime meal with others at a local senior center would make mealtime more palatable? You can find a list of conveniently located senior centers on the Care Missouri web site at mid-eastaa.org.
  • Another approach is to make meal preparation easier. There are several options for doing this. If time permits, spend a day cooking with your loved one and divide food into individual meals that can be frozen. You may also consider purchasing frozen pre-packaged meals at the grocery store. According to WebMD, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, and Smart Ones are some of the best options.
  • The same approach applies to hydration; make it easier for seniors to hydrate by providing a large glass or bottle; preferably one with a lid that provides insulation and will keep beverages cold. Water is best for hydration, but any beverage that does not contain too much sugar, salt, or caffeine is acceptable. Encourage them to keep it nearby as a reminder to drink more often.
  • In addition, many seniors enjoy home delivered meals, or “Meals on Wheels”. These programs generally provide a noontime meal delivered Monday through Friday. Many seniors say that the portions are so generous that they save half for their evening meal. It is also nice to have a volunteer stop by and share a smile or a kind word. If you’re interested in home delivered meals, contact your local Area Agency on Aging. The Mid-East Area Agency on Aging serves St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson, and Franklin Counties and can be reached at 636-207-0847 or visit their website at agingmissouri.org. Meals on Wheels of Greater St. Louis at 314-268-1523 is another good option.
  • A final option that bears mentioning is hiring a caregiver. This is a great option that can really make a big difference, especially for seniors who require assistance with personal care and/or homemaking. A caregiver can help with the morning routine, do laundry, and prepare meals all in a few hours, and having someone present provides an excellent opportunity for socialization that will stimulate the appetite as well. Agencies such as Assistance Home Care can provide caregivers throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area. For more information, please visit our web site at assistanceathome.com

Providing nutrition support can go a long way toward maintaining a good quality of life for your loved one. There are many ways to provide this support. Discuss concerns with your family members and involve them in the decision making process to determine a course of action, and be sure to monitor the situation to see how well the changes are working. Remember, good nutrition plays a crucial role in keeping older people healthy and functioning.

When thinking of an older friend or relative who lives nearby, remember these suggestions and use the important phrase “Lets Have Lunch!”

Assistance Home Care helps families to remain independent and safe at home. Among the many services provided, caregivers can help improve nutrition by preparing healthy meals, encouraging and monitoring intake, and providing wonderful companionship.
For more information please give us a call:
St. Charles 636-724-4357 Webster Groves 314-631-1989 Ellisville 636-200-290