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Companionship diet can help older adults thrive

 

Last updated 8/25/2021 at 10:05am | View PDF

Courtesy of Home Instead

Making older adults part of your family meal is one of the topics covered in the Companionship Diet program.

The pandemic has caused feelings of isolation and depression amongst older adults, and the solution to this issue may be just as simple as a hot meal among friends and family. 

According to a survey from Home Instead, seniors who eat most of their meals alone are more than twice as likely to feel lonely compared to those who enjoy meals with others, leading to feelings of isolation and poor eating habits.   

This isolation is deeply impactful, causing lonely seniors to skip more than 20 percent of their total meals each year. However, conversations around a dining room table can counteract these feelings – reducing loneliness, improving nutritional intake and promoting healthy longevity. COVID-19 may have separated us, but now is the time to reunite families for mealtime.  

To demonstrate the health benefits of enjoying meals together, the local aging experts at Home Instead in Colorado Springs are launching a free community program with the goal of encouraging local families to spend more time with older loved ones around the dinner table. The program, Companionship Diet, offers free resources such as nutritious recipes and tips for involving older loved ones in the meal preparation process. 

It seems as though a new diet debuts every year or so, complete with menus and tips that promise a swift path to a healthier life. But for lonely older adults, few food plans focus on the one ingredient most miss: companionship.

A companion who is involved in the meal process may minimize these risks for loneliness that can lead to poor nutrition, noted Home Instead, Inc., Gerontologist and Caregiver Advocate Dr. Lakelyn Hogan. Call it the companionship diet. A companionship diet plan is more than a health trend, Hogan explained. It's a mind shift that offers an older adult a partner to help him or her navigate the entire dining experience, from meal planning to actually enjoying a meal together.

Companionship has never been more relevant for today's seniors. Quarantine and self-isolation orders left thousands of older adults at home alone during COVID-19. According to research, isolation can contribute to loneliness and nutritional risk.

U.S. seniors who eat most of their meals alone are more than twice as likely to be lonely (42 percent) than seniors who eat most of their meals with others (19 percent), according to research conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead network.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic forced the increased isolation of so many, 75 percent of lonely seniors in the U.S. (69 percent in Canada) already were not getting the right amount of at least one element of nutrition.

The Companionship Diet website has numerous articles and suggestions to combat these problems. For instance, the article "7 Tips for Older Adults," outlines a simple plan:

Involve seniors in a meal plan – Seniors will be more likely to eat well if their menu includes foods that are not only nutritious but ones they like.

Create a balanced menu – Include plenty of fruits and vegetables, then add in whole grains and proteins.

Adapt healthy alternatives – Find a way to take comfort foods the older adult knows and loves, and turn them into something diet friendly. Instead of a regular apple pie, add just a dab of butter and sugar on apple slices, wrap in foil, and bake in the oven.

Avoid the extreme – Sometimes a diet for health conditions (diabetes, for example) simply needs to limit carbohydrates or grains, not eliminate them entirely.

Improvise – When fresh fruits and vegetables aren't available, canned and frozen foods can be a good substitute.

Enhance the flavor of foods – Improving the taste of foods can be helpful in making them go down easier. While seniors may have dietary restrictions, butter or a light margarine on veggies is generally acceptable. Herbs can be a good flavor-enhancer, too.

Encourage healthy snacks – When three square meals a day isn't an option, seniors should have plenty of snacks on hand. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fresh or canned fruit, veggie sticks, cheese and crackers, etc.

Other articles include:

"6 Ways to Make Older Adults Part of Your Family Meal"

"5 Mealtime Challenges for Seniors"

"4 Recipes to Connect Families"

To see more, visit http://www.homeinstead.com/care-resources/wellness-lifestyle/companionship-diet/

 

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