Organized and planned mealtimes are important to ensure aging adults are getting the nutrition they need. Loneliness and social isolation are among the roadblocks that prevent that goal from being achieved.
Overall, the meals lonely aging adults are eating tend to be less healthy than those of seniors who aren’t lonely, with lonely U.S. seniors getting 157 fewer servings of fruit and vegetables per year than not-lonely seniors, according to research conducted for Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead® network.
Following, from Home Instead, Inc., Gerontologist and Caregiver Advocate Dr. Lakelyn Hogan and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Shannon Muhs, are the top meal challenges and tips for what family caregivers can do:
1. Physical disability.
“Hearing loss and dementia are two things people often don’t equate to loneliness and isolation that could impact mealtime,” according to Muhs. “If someone doesn’t have hearing aids to help engage, he or she is likely to be more isolated during mealtimes which in turn may jeopardize their ability to get proper nutrition.” In fact, according to research conducted by Home Instead, Inc., lonely U.S. seniors are almost twice as likely to have a physical disability (30 percent) than U.S. seniors who are not lonely (16 percent), and more likely to have a disability or chronic condition in general (64 percent vs. 48 percent). Be sure an older adult is up-to-date on physicals and doctor appointments.
2. Lack of emotion sharing.
That “lonely in a crowd” feeling could point to a lack of emotion sharing and intimate relationships including the sharing of deep conversations. “COVID-19 definitely hasn’t helped,” Muhs said. Our fast-paced society can be a factor as well, Muhs added. “It could also be a generation not knowing as much about how to connect and start the conversation. It may depend on how they were raised and the emotional intelligence of both an aging adult and his or her loved one. Social media also can come into play. “It takes a conscious effort to spend time together talking and not on our devices.” Put down the phone for real conversations. Awkward moments and distraction can leave older adults disinterested in a fruitful mealtime experience.
3. Grocery shopping.
Recent quarantines and social isolation have made it more difficult than ever for older adults to retrieve groceries. Shopping challenges can tie closely to a lack of getting the right kinds of food. “Online shopping is a positive,” Muhs noted. “However, we see a lot of older people, when left up to them, struggle with it, and mistakes are made. In my opinion, it’s preferable for the caregiver to do that step. Senior and companion plan the meal together, write the grocery list together, but then the caregiver places the order and arranges for the delivery.”
4. Cooking for one.
Whether it’s a lack motivation to cook for themselves or the desire not to create a mess, seniors may not enjoy cooking if they are alone. Online meal ordering through grocery stores may be a help. So too can appliances be designed to make cooking easier including crock pots, instapots and air fryers. Keep in mind that such tools may not be appropriate for seniors with cognitive issues.
5. Loss of appetite.Any number of issues from depression to medication to loneliness can trigger a loss of appetite. If an older adult has lost his or her appetite, it’s important to see a doctor to learn the reasons why. Make sure food is flavored well to appeal to an older adult’s appetite. Check out this guide to matching herbs and spices with the right vegetables.
Learn more about how to make older adults part of your family meals.