One out of four aging Americans suffers from poor nutrition. People who already struggle with transportation options may find it especially difficult to make it to a store and bring back a bag or two of groceries. Some seniors struggle with other physical problems that prevent them from getting good nutrition such as difficulty chewing or difficulty moving heavy pans or standing long enough to prepare a meal. Not getting proper nutrition can create health problems beyond those of malnutrition. “Degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer, which are among the most common diseases affecting older persons, are all diet-affected,” according to the World Health Organization. Because they are at a higher risk for health issues stemming from poor nutrition, many families move their older family members into assisted living communities but according to the National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Aging, nearly 35 to 50 percent of older residents in long-term care facilities are malnourished and as many as 65 percent of those in hospitals may be malnourished. Malnutrition amongst the elderly is a societal issue as older adults at nutritional risk are more likely to require visits to emergency rooms, hospitals and doctors.
There are several primary causes of malnourishment amongst older adults. While poverty can and often does play an important role in malnutrition, so does an inability to provide for themselves; medications because they often cause a lack of appetite, reduction in taste or smell; nausea and vomiting; and loss of teeth.
One alternative for those who wish to remain in their own homes is to hire a professional chef. Obviously a personal chef isn’t the answer for people unable to afford basic food but for those that can afford it, a personal chef can do the grocery shopping, prepare nutritious meals, plan meals around dietary restrictions and provide alternatives to eating out or eating frozen meals. Recently NPR spotlighted a business called Chefs for Seniors that focuses exclusively on preparing meals for seniors. A typical week’s worth of meals including shopping, preparing and storing meals and clean up afterwards costs between $45 and $75. Those are the costs in Wisconsin where Chefs for Seniors is located. They are likely to be higher in places like Western Washington.
- Munchery (chef-cooked meals delivered to your door)
- Vittles de Vine Chef (personal chef service)
- Puget Sound Personal Chefs (a directory of local personal chefs)
A recent Time article pointed out that there aren’t many books on diets for older individuals. Still it did have suggestions for physicians looking at the diets of older people to help them eat meals that are more nutritious.
For caregivers looking to provide meals that balance nutrition and taste for older adults, here are some options:
When my grandmother would come to live with us for a few months each winter, she would always start putting on a bit of weight and get healthier. One of the reasons was that my parents eat meals around a table. They would sit and chat about the day while everyone ate. The companionship provided a reason for my grandmother to eat even when she thought she wasn’t hungry. It also gave her a reason to socialize for a bit three or more times a day. Malnutrition is just one reason why aging must be a family affair. When planning for your future or the future of an elder, nutrition should be part of the discussion and a part of your planning.