What's for dinner?
For a senior living alone, the answer may be not easy.
Women who once cooked for a family or men who depended on their wives to prepare meals may think eating is not worth the bother.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Mary Ann Ritchey, a Home Instead caregiver, serves a prepared dinner to Audrey McCauley in McCauley's Altoona home. Seniors can enjoy meals prepared by others or make them in advance to help satisfy their nutritional needs.
"It's a challenge to prepare a meal after the death of a spouse," said Leigh-Ann Wright, general manager of Home Instead Senior Care in Duncansville. "It's difficult to cook for one person."
She said people associate eating with conversation and family time.
"It a reminder of loneliness," she said.
Wright added that one of the biggest challenges for older adults is eating alone in a restaurant.
Other factors lead to poor eating habits in seniors.
Wright said seniors who are depressed, not feeling well or suffering from early dementia may be reluctant to eat, and that reluctance translates into refusal.
She said someone in the early stages of dementia may not know how to answer the question, "what do you want for breakfast?" and may respond that he or she does not want to eat. But if the person is given a choice between cold cereal and oatmeal, he or she is better able to make a choice.
Stocking the kitchen shelves and refrigerator can also be a problem for seniors who may not have a way to grocery shop on a regular basis.
"Even if they buy fresh corn, peas and lettuce, it only lasts so long," Wright said. "It makes it a challenge to stay healthy."
During Home Instead's training program, caregivers learn ways to help seniors enjoy meals through its Food is Fun class.
Wright said Home Instead offers various options to its clients, including shopping, preparing meals and having a caregiver dine with the senior, either in the person's home or a restaurant.
"The caregiver may bring a bagged lunch to the senior's home and encourage her or him to eat by saying, 'I am going to sit down and eat lunch with you. What would you like today? Let me prepare you something,'" Wright said.
She said the caregiver works with the family to provide specific needs for the senior, including dietary needs such as a low sodium or diabetic diet.
Caregivers may cook several meals in advance for a senior who finds standing to cook a strain or may accompany a senior to a restaurant who enjoys eating out. The goal is to satisfy the seniors' preferences while providing their nutritional needs.
Dona Baughman, clinical nutrition manager at Altoona Regional and a registered dietitian, said food is vital to make the body work properly. If a senior does not eat, it can make other problems worse.
Baughman said people, especially those 70 and older, may not have an appetite because of medication, depression or an illness. She said food helps people feel better and gives them strength.
She said seniors should eat a variety of foods and make choices from three of four food groups at each meal - protein, grains, vegetables and fruits. She said while fats are another group, most people get enough fat if they are eating a healthy diet.
Baughman said an example of a lunch with the three foods groups would be a tuna fish sandwich (protein and grains) and a fruit. She said if the senior eats a can of soup, he or she could add more vegetables to it and fruit, topped off with a glass of milk.
Dairy products are a separate food group and Baughman said it is important for seniors to get enough liquid in their diets to avoid dehydration, which affects the kidneys and major organs.
She said six to eight cups of water or other liquid a day are recommended with juice and even soup counting as part of the intake. Decaffeinated tea and coffee are OK, but regular coffee and tea are diuretics.
Baughman said seniors who have difficulty remembering to drink 48 to 64 ounces of liquid a day should make it part of their daily routine, such as drinking water during TV commercials.
She, too, emphasized making eating fun. Baughman suggested seniors enjoy lunch at Blair Senior Services or a meal with a friend one day a week. She said grocery shopping with a friend can even make the experience more pleasurable.
For a senior dining alone,
Baughman suggested cooking dishes ahead and freezing them in individual portions or purchasing prepared frozen meals to make making dinner easier.
Baughman recommended reserving eating commercially prepared meals for a few days a week and sticking to ones that are lower in fat and salt and contain a variety of foods - such as a casserole choice with meat, rice and vegetables.
"Don't get stuck on one food," she said. "Different foods give you different nutrients."