Eating alone is increasingly common in all age groups but may be of particular concern for seniors. Cooking for one person can be harder because they have to scale down recipes, but it also takes the pleasure of cooking for loved ones out of the equation. Instead of stimulating dinner conversations, the television becomes “the other person at the table”.
Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of poor meal choices which turn out to be quick and easy to obtain… While many seniors are very active, others don’t have the energy or the ability to prepare meals for themselves. Some may have never set foot in the kitchen, particularly if their partner was the person who mostly did the cooking and this person no longer lives with them.
This could lead to further difficulties and complex issues such as weight loss and malnutrition, as the person who is now eating alone may simply stop eating altogether. These issues can snowball into health deterioration, fatigue, it could lead to depression and the inability or desire to eat.
Inadequate nutrition can lead to a weakening of the immune system, therefore increasing the risk of illness or infections, or contributing to mental confusion. As continued malnutrition can lead to depression, which in turn could lead to loss of appetite, which inevitably feeds (no pun intended) a vicious cycle.
For the elderly, other factors can contribute to malnutrition including a lack of money to buy adequate food, or transportation to the grocery store.
Even if a senior citizen is living directly across the street from the grocery store for example, they could feel trapped in their building due to their physical disabilities, and/or the inability to get out and purchase what they need. So when we think about our elderly parents and/or loved ones and their needs, think not only “do they have enough income to purchase what they need” but “is shopping something they’re able to do on their own?”.
Here are some tips to encourage seniors to eat. Make sure they have a comfortable place to eat; set out a nice place mat, linen napkin or fresh flowers. Find a neighbor or friend for your loved one to eat with on a regular basis. Have them take turns cooking meals or cook together. Start or have your loved ones start a potluck dinner club. If finances are not an issue, hire a personal chef to create a week’s worth of meals for the fridge and freezer, or contact a meal delivery service. Have breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast. And of course, you can also hire a private home care agency and have their care aides help by cooking what your loved ones would like to eat every day.
When cooking, always make extra and freeze in single servings and put in the freezer. Keep a list of what’s in the freezer or fridge, on the refrigerator as it makes it easier to plan a meal; your loved one will want to knows what they have on hand.
Above all, remember that eating is a social act. While many people may not eat as well when eating alone, as they would sitting down at a family meal, there are many options to ensure adequate nutrition. Whether it be by finding friends to eat with, using easy to prepare recipes, or making a change in the living situation, your loved one can still remain healthy with your help and encouragement.
Pamela Schutz, LPN