Mealtimes can be challenging for older adults. While a little bit of an appetite loss is normal with age, many seniors undergo other changes that make eating feel more like a chore than a joy. Conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia can make it more difficult for the elderly to focus on food, or remember to eat. Similarly, seniors may be experiencing physical changes that can make it harder to cook and serve themselves food. In other cases, there may be emotional hurdles that make mealtimes feel daunting.
Food is one of the cornerstones of our culture — and is one of the biggest keys to helping seniors live happy, healthy lives. What can you do to make eating a pleasant, approachable, and a healthy experience for your elderly loved ones? Here are five tips to keep in mind:
1.) Think About the Senior’s Wants and Needs
Whether or not your senior loved one is a “picky” eater, they’re bound to have foods that they like, and foods that they find a lot less appealing. It’s only natural! Listening to your loved one’s preferences can be a powerful way to get them interested in eating again. Be sure to ask your senior loved one about what they want to eat, and make them an active participant in the menu planning process. Getting your loved one involved in creating their favorite foods might make them a lot more excited about eating them down the line.
When you do prepare meals for seniors, don’t forget to think about your loved one’s dietary needs. Rather than loading up food with salt, find healthy ways to add flavor, such as fresh herbs and spices. Try to find ways to make meals more nutrient-dense and well-balanced, with protein, fiber, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Finally, if your loved one has trouble with chewing or swallowing, try to emphasize soft foods, soups, and other dishes that are easy to eat.
2.) Make Mealtimes More Social
Research has shown that sharing meals can be truly powerful when it comes to helping seniors live happier, healthier lives. Studies suggest that seniors who regularly dine together with friends and family tend to eat more, and make healthier choices at mealtimes. According to research, the vast majority of older adults say that they feel happier and more fulfilled when eating with others, and more than half even say that sharing a meal makes the food taste better.
To encourage your loved one to eat well, try to join them for meals as often as possible. Even meeting up for meals a few times per week can make an enormous difference in motivating your loved one to eat more nutritiously, and feel better when they do. A senior companion can be a great help, as well, stepping in and helping shop, cook, and share meals with your senior loved one on a regular basis — all served up with a smile and an open heart.
3.) Get Rid of Distractions
For seniors with cognitive changes, or changes to their senses, it may help to get rid of distractions at mealtimes. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) encourages family caregivers to “make the eating area quiet” and “turn off the TV and radio,” so everyone can focus on coming together and enjoying the meal. Similarly, the Orlando Sentinel recommends that senior dining companions “refrain from interrupting [the meal] using cell phones and other technology.”
4.) Serve Food In a Senior-Friendly Fashion
A great dining experience is all about the service! Be sure to take some time to consider how to best accommodate your senior loved one’s preferences and needs at dinner time. There are lots of small touches you can add to help make a meal more senior-friendly. For example, the NIA recommends offering “just one food at a time,” instead of filling the plate or table with too many options. The NIA also encourages caregivers to cut food into small, bite-size pieces, and make sure that’s it’s soft enough to eat.
If your loved one has trouble with silverware, you might consider serving up healthy finger foods, to make it easier for your older loved ones to feed themselves. There are also different types of specialty flatware, specifically designed to be easier to use for seniors with tremors or shaking hands.
Finally, think about your tablescape. It may help to get rid of visual clutter, such as excess plates, silverware, and glasses. Instead, focus on having a clean, simple presentation. It may also help to use bright, colorful tableware. In fact, one prominent study found that Alzheimer’s patients who were served on red plates “consumed 25 percent more food than those eating from white plates.”
5.) Give It Plenty of Time
As the NIA puts it:
“Don’t rush. Be patient and give the person enough time to finish the meal.”
Your loved one might feel more reticent to eat if they feel that they are being pressured, or as though you’re examining them under a microscope.Try not to hurry through mealtimes, and focus on creating a regular routine, so your senior loved one knows what to expect and feels more relaxed.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to think about setting your loved one up for success before and after mealtimes, as well. Seniors are more likely to eat if they are physically active, so encourage simple exercises and activities. Make sure that your older loved ones are also drinking enough water; in addition to causing serious adverse health effects, dehydration can be an appetite suppressant.
Making Mealtimes a Priority? Companions for Seniors Can Help
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 shared 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. 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.
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 just spending some quality one-on-one time playing games or sharing a meal together. Our companions understand the enormous impact that a social mealtime can have on a senior’s overall health, and we make eating well a point of emphasis when it comes to the care we provide.
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 today!