They say the three most important things we need to sustain life are food, water and shelter. And it’s easy to assume we have all three when we’re sitting in our favourite chairs with a kitchen filled with food a few steps away.
Yet more than ever, we’re finding people are at risk because they aren’t receiving the proper nutrition from the foods they eat. Studies show that up to 10 per cent of the elderly currently living in their own homes are malnourished in some manner. But the odds don’t improve when they move to facilities. In fact, malnourishment can jump as high as 60 per cent when the elderly move from hospitals into long term care facilities.
Why? As we age, our bodies change. Therefore our bodies don’t use food as an energy source in quite the same manner as they did when we were young and active. As a result, we might not feel as hungry and therefore skip meals and reduce our food consumption altogether. Our tastes may change, and we might become pickier with what we choose. And if the foods we like aren’t available in the hospital or in care facilities, we’ll simply choose not to eat.
Eating a balanced diet can solve an array of problems that also come with the ageing process. If you don’t eat and drink properly, dehydration can easily set in, taking away energy and functionality. In addition, poor nutrition and dehydration can magnify medication side effects. And when weakness and the loss of appetite sets in from these side effects, a downward spiral takes place that leads to weight loss. Which, of course, can all aggravate chronic diseases that may already be a part of your loved one’s life.
Caregiving is difficult at best. When you are providing care for someone on a part-time basis, it’s easy to step in and help where you are most needed and let the rest “happen” naturally on its own, assuming things are being done in the proper manner. If your mom can still live on her own, for example, but needs daily check-ins to help her keep her medicines straight, that becomes the centre of attention. It’s easy to overlook more basic needs, such as proper eating.
Stop and take a look at your current situation once in a while.
- Does your loved one complain about the food?
- Does she have trouble getting to the grocery store?
- What kinds of foods do you find in the pantry and in the refrigerator?
- What types of dishes are in the dishwasher?
- Does she avoid meals together or going out to dinner with family?
- Does she complain about the high cost of food?
- Is it hard for her to eat alone?
While the little things can be easily overlooked, when you start noticing behaviour, it can quickly add up to a problem.
Yet, there are easy solutions.
Commit to regular meals together. Having someone to talk to over a meal can help bring an appetite back.
Take her to a favourite restaurant. If she likes the food, she’s more likely to eat.
Set up lunch or dinner dates with her friends. Her friends may be facing similar situations.
Go to the grocery store together. Help her make wise choices, and give her options she may not have thought about before.
Make quick meals that can go from freezer to oven with little effort. By having meals that are easy and meals that she likes ready at hand, it can solve the dilemma of “what’s for dinner”.
Use places like Meals On Wheels. This is a great resource in your community that not only provides a meal every day but also can provide a moment of conversation for your loved one.
Cook together. Let your loved one stay active in the cooking process. Even if they can no longer use a stove or cut with a knife, there are things they can do to have fun with food. Dipping carrot sticks and broccoli into dips can be a great way to eat vegetables. How about letting them knead the dough for bread? Or mix together a sauce for a simple recipe? The act of being involved in the meal often gives someone more of a reason to eat it.
Above all, remain aware of the situation. If you notice changes and have any concerns, talk with your loved one’s doctor immediately.