Why Your Elderly Parents Aren’t Eating (And What You Can Do About It)

affordable home care assisted home care companion home care disability home care elder care in Minnesota eldercare at home elderly home assistance elderly home care service help for senior caregivers home care companies home care in MinnesotaSo much of the care for older people revolves around medical issues . . . appointments, lab tests, hospitalizations, falls, and other complicated issues of chronic and acute disease management.  I’d like to bring to your attention, however, another important piece in caring for older people, the simple matter of eating—taking food into our bodies—and why this can be a problem for the elderly.

You probably don’t put much thought into where your next meal is coming from or how you will get it, but for older persons living alone, it’s a bit more complicated.  There are a number of hindrances to eating well.

First of all, there are a number of physical and social aspects to eating.  Even if a person living alone still enjoys cooking, he or she may have problems with being able to stand for the length of time it takes to prep and cook a meal.  Maybe preparing a decent meal for one is just too much bother, especially if that person is used to cooking for an entire family.  Perhaps the person does not like to eat alone, so he or she settles for grabbing something easy and sitting in front of the television; after all, the television is better company than none at all.  Similarly, many men always had someone to prepare their meals, so they haven’t a clue about how to make a nutritious meal for themselves.

Many seniors find themselves reliant on ready-to-eat meals.  While frozen and prepared foods are convenient and easy, they contain tons of sodium, fat, and other ingredients that aren’t healthy, especially for people who are on diabetic or other special diets.

As we age, our senses of smell and taste decrease; therefore, it is not unusual for older persons to keep expired or otherwise inedible food sitting in their refrigerators.  Not only can they not smell when food has gone bad, but leftovers are often shoved into the back of the refrigerator.  Because the older person is not able to see it, reach it, or remember it’s there, it goes to waste (or, God forbid, they consume it).  Another reason elderly people do not throw out food, even when it’s clearly time to do so, is because they grew up in a time when nothing was wasted.  You would be disgusted by what some of our at-home caregivers find when they tackle the task of cleaning someone’s refrigerator!

The cost of nutritious food is another reason why so many elderly people don’t eat well.  Many older persons live on fixed incomes, at or below poverty level.  Spending money on fresh fruits and vegetables doesn’t make a lot of sense to them when purchasing noodles, rice, crackers, and bread (carbohydrates) can make their limited money go farther.  I’ve seen, too often, those who have to make a choice between food and medicine or other important necessities.

Sometimes, particularly with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, a person can actually forget to eat.  Others have no appetite.  Loss of appetite can be attributed to depression, treatment for cancers, medications, or even social isolation.

Lastly, if an older person has ill-fitting dentures, missing teeth, or poor dental hygiene, eating may be difficult and unpleasant.

Good food is necessary for emotional and physical health.  Many of our country’s social norms revolve around eating.  Human beings also need good nutrition to maintain strength and health.  So what can be done to help those who are having difficulty taking in enough good food?  The following are some resources for adult children taking care of elderly parents who are having problems with eating:

home care services for seniors home help for the elderly in home care Minneapolis in home help for seniors in home senior care providers non medical senior care private pay home care respite for caregivers senior citizenc are senior companion care senior home assistance taking care of elderly parents1.   Home Delivered Meals: Check out Meals on Wheels (1-888-998-6325) or Mom’s Meals (1-877-508-6667).  Both of these programs can be paid for through county plans if the senior is eligible, or they can be purchased privately.  Home Delivered Meals from Betty Crocker (1-800-238-8368) is another option.  There are many choices within these options.  For example, people can order one meal or several per week.  It’s possible to start and stop services as needed.  Families can also make a fun activity out of preparing several meals together at make-and-take places such as Let’s Dish.  These meals can be frozen for future use.  For more information or to sign up, go to www.letsdish.com.

2.  Congregate Dining: Many senior living buildings and other places such as senior centers provide one or more meals per day for those interested in dining with others.  Not only do seniors receive nutritious meals, but those choosing this option also get to share meals with others, thus helping to prevent social isolation.

3.  Store to Door: For those who can no longer drive or shop for themselves, Store to Door volunteers take grocery orders over the phone and for a small fee will shop for and deliver groceries right to your door.  Information is available at 651-642-1892 or by emailing info@storetodoor.org.

4.  Sharing: Some of my creative clients have worked out sharing agreements with neighbors or others living in their apartment buildings.  The one who likes to cook prepares a meal for several people, and they enjoy it together. The others pitch in for the cost of the food.  This is a great option for those who are still able to enjoy meal preparation, those who are social, and those who want to cut expenses.

5.  Right at Home Caregivers: Our at-home caregivers can come on a regular basis to help meet many issues around food.

*They can assist in taking a food inventory and in making up shopping lists or menus.

*They can drive seniors to the store and shop with or for them.

*They can cook a meal.

*They can eat with seniors, if that is desired.

* They can prep vegetables or peel potatoes for the senior to cook later.

*They can prepare favorite dishes, such as casseroles or soups, in larger quantities to freeze for later use.

*They can pick up takeout food.

*They can clean up afterwards!

6.  Low Income Options:

Fare For All is an organization that purchases fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats in high volume, thus reducing the price.  There are 22 express sites throughout the metro area.  Call 1-800-582-4291 or go to www.fareforall.com for more information.  They take cash, credit, EBT, or debit cards.  There is no pre-pay or pre-order requirement at the express sites, though there are Fare For All sites that require prepayment and preordering.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called Food Stamps, is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.  You need to make an application and meet certain financial criteria to be eligible for this program.  Call 1-800-221-5689 for information.

Minnesota Food Helpline (1-888-711-1151) is a statewide food resource information and referral helpline.  Callers can be screened for Food Support eligibility and receive assistance with completing application for food support.  They assist callers in locating food resources (such as food shelves, hot meals) in their community.

Hunger Solutions (www.hungersolutions.org) is a site that helps people locate food resources. You can search by zip code, city, or county.

Julie Ellingson, LSW

May 7, 2013


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