“…there was something special about setting aside time to be with my father. It was therapeutic: an excuse to talk, to reflect on the day, and on recent events. Our chats about the banal—of baseball and television—often led to discussions of the serious—of politics and death, of memories and loss. Eating together was a small act, and it required very little of us—45 minutes away from our usual, quotidian distractions—and yet it was invariably one of the happiest parts of my day.”
— Cody C. Delistraty, The Atlantic
Across generations and cultures, sharing a meal has always been about so much more than just eating food. Family meals bring people together to swap stories, play games, discuss current events, and learn from one another. Common meals are a chance for families to come together as one and truly share something special — whether that means passing down old school recipes, or making treasured new memories around the table.
And did you know? Helping your senior parent have companionship during mealtimes could be one of the most important ways to help them maintain their independence, feel happier, and experience good health as they age.
Science Shows the Vital Importance of Sharing Meals
Recently, Canada updated its national food guide to encourage people to “eat with others when possible,” according to a report from the Canadian Press. Many in Canada are applauding the move — particularly because of the many benefits it could bring to senior citizens. As one professor put it for the Press:
“The evidence is absolutely there that cooking together as families and eating together as families builds stronger communities, that’s been documented for quite a long time… The responsibility that I’m feeling isn’t resting with the [older] person, it’s resting with the community around them.”
In Canada and the U.S, malnutrition is a serious problem for older adults, many of whom have trouble eating or prepping meals due to underlying health conditions. Many seniors around the country also face the “silent” threat of loneliness and isolation, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and even the onset of chronic health problems. Studies suggest that one of the common factors driving poor eating habits and loneliness may just be having to dine all alone.
For instance, one prominent research study recently found that:
- One in five seniors say that they “feel lonely when eating alone” most or some of the time
- About 20 percent of seniors who live alone “have at least four warning signs of poor nutritional health”
- More than 75 percent of seniors say that “they wish their families shared more meals together”
- Seniors who live alone cite “lack of companionship” as one of the single biggest problems they face at mealtimes
Sharing a meal together as a family, or helping your loved one connect with a companion or friend group to share meals, can make all the difference for your senior’s health and wellbeing.
Dining with friends, family, or a companion can help your senior loved one:
Improve their physical health
Eating together can help seniors actually improve their nutritional intake. Research suggests that seniors take longer to dine and report eating more nutritiously when dining with companions, versus eating alone. Both of these actions are important steps toward a more healthy and fulfilling diet, which can ultimately empower your loved one to lead a longer and more independent life. Just as importantly, prepping for meals together can lead to healthier behaviors for seniors, as well. In the time leading up to a shared meal, a family member or companion could take the senior out to run errands, helping them to get active while also encouraging them to stock up on more nutritious foods.
Create meaningful social connections
According to research, a full 85 percent of seniors say that having someone to share their meals makes mealtimes more satisfying, while 88 percent say that “stimulating conversation” is one of the biggest benefits of sharing a meal with family and friends.
In short? Mealtimes are a great chance for older adults to connect socially. Whether eating with family or friends, eating together is a way for seniors to come together with others — and the health benefits of spending time with people cannot be overstated. Older adults who are more socially connected report living longer, feeling better, and experiencing fewer health problems than their more isolated counterparts.
Improve their mental and emotional wellbeing
As the Family & Children’s Center puts it, shared meals offer a chance for people to “come together, strengthen ties and build better relationships. They build a sense of belonging which leads to better self-esteem.” What’s more, studies show that the vast majority of older adults report feeling happier eating with others than when they eat alone; more than half even say that sharing a meal makes the food taste better!
Making Companionship Available, at Mealtimes and Beyond
Most of us have treasured memories of sitting down with our families to share a meal. Maybe your favorite dinner time story took place at home, or at a beloved restaurant. Maybe you and your family ate together all the time, with family meals every night, or perhaps you got together once a week for an enormous feast.
But as everyone gets older, moves apart, and builds families of their own, it can become harder to carve out as much time as you’d like to share meals with your older family. Members of the Sandwich Generation live busy lives, caring for kids and seniors at the same time. Countless adults live too far from their parents and older family to make mealtimes a nightly event. Fortunately, that’s where Companions for Seniors can step in and help.
At Companions for Seniors, we know how much your family means to you — and we’re here to help you take care of the people who took care of you.
Our mission is simple: We help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships. Our professionally trained and bonded companions can be there for your senior family in many different ways — from helping with activities of daily living, to running errands, to assisting with meal prep, to just spending some quality one-on-one time playing games or sharing a meal together. The little things can make a big difference. We’re always ready to step in and give support to the elderly, in whatever ways they need, while also giving family caregivers the chance to take some much-needed respite.
Have any questions? Want to talk about your family’s unique needs? We’re here to listen. Get in touch online or give us a call today to get the conversation started.