The holidays are officially upon us. So, our thoughts turn to holiday menu planning, shopping, and decorating. And what about those of us with elderly parents or relatives? How do we best include them in festive gatherings?
In some ways, I wish holiday gatherings were year-round events. Because too many elders eat alone. And that puts their health at risk.
The US Census shows that 28% of seniors live alone. This equates to 14.7 million older adults eating meals all by themselves. Day in and day out.
Meals with just the cat and TV for companionship.
The risks of eating alone
It’s harder to make good food choices when it’s just me, myself, and I. Nutrition suffers. There’s a tendency to eat easy, quick, pre-packaged, and processed foods. Seniors may not get the protein necessary for maintaining muscle and brain power.
Also, shopping, prepping, and cooking food takes a lot of energy. Many seniors don’t make the effort. Cooking for one isn’t very motivating. Instead of sitting down to regular meals many piecemeal throughout the day. Which makes for an unbalanced diet.
For example, my 86-year-old neighbor’s kitchen countertop can’t be found. It’s buried beneath packages of cookies, chips, crackers, bread, nuts, and bananas. Intermixed are vitamin and pill bottles. That’s what she eats throughout the day. At least for dinner she can microwave a nutritious meal. Her daughter prepares and delivers them weekly.
Eating alone increases the sense of isolation leading to loneliness and depression. There’s no sense of belonging or significance.
As the song goes, “One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do…” Not only that, but loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of dementia by 50%.
Because of these risks, it’s imperative seniors find meal companions.
How you can help someone find meal companions
The obvious answer is, show up! Be the companion.
- Fix a meal, take it over, sit down together, share some chit chat. Ask questions that prompt conversation. A warm hearty dish seasoned to perfection and mixed with peals of laughter – “M’m! M’m! Good!″
- Do you remember the days when families gathered for Sunday dinner? Or held Friday night pizza and game nights? With our busy lifestyles, it seems impossible to revive these traditions. But we could set a modest goal of eating together at least once during the week.
Hire a companion
- If you live too far away to share a weekly meal with your elder, hire a substitute. Perhaps there’s a local neighbor or church group that would visit with a meal.
- You could also check with your elder’s local county senior services. Also, many home care agencies offer companion helpers.
- Many senior centers provide lunchtime meals during the week. Some even have transportation services. Or the county may have a senior transportation program. So then if your elder doesn’t drive, they can still get to the center.
- Seniors can dine with their peers and as a bonus join activities afterwards. Centers offer group card games, exercise classes, book clubs, and more.
- One healthy benefit of senior living is having regular meals with built-in companionship.
- Are you concerned about your loved one’s nutrition or loneliness? Consider moving them to retirement or assisted living.
We humans are social creatures. Even the introverted. With all the health risks of eating alone, it’s important to schedule meals with others. Breaking bread with friends and family is part of a healthy lifestyle for older adults.
Finding the right senior care for your situation can be frustrating. Portland Senior Housing makes it easy – saving you time and stress. We’ve done the research. We’ve pre-viewed and pre-qualified facilities in your area. Customers who use our service feel confident they’re making the best decisions. Call Jenn today! 503-487-7245