While both seniors and caregivers have a myriad of things to worry about as they age, one of them shouldn’t be food – most especially healthy foods and their availability.
Food insecurity amongst the elderly is an increasing concern across the globe, not just the United Kingdom, with a large portion of seniors struggling to meet healthy nutritional requirements month after month.
What is food insecurity?
In general, food insecurity refers to a lack of access to sufficiently nutritious foods due to economic, social or physical restrictions. When it comes to seniors, food insecurity is largely caused by poverty or limited access to a monthly income, little or no private pension access, a lack of mobility or geographical limitations.
Under-nutrition amongst seniors is a daily reality in the United Kingdom, which is a leading cause of functional decline and increasing mortality rates. It can lead to poor health, increased falls, delays in recovery from illnesses and extended periods in hospital. It’s also a leading cause of depression and can contribute to the cognitive decline in those suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Evidence from the National Nutrition Screening Survey shows than an estimated 1.3 million seniors throughout the UK suffer from a permanent state of food insecurity and a daily nutritional deficit. While 29% of seniors are found to be malnourished upon admission to hospital after falling ill.
What can caregivers do to help?
First thing’s first, you will need to do a little observation as a caregiver as to whether your care receiver is suffering from food insecurity or has poor eating habits of their own.
With this in mind, you’ll need to ask the following questions:
- Can they actually afford nutritious foods in addition to their monthly living and healthcare costs?
- If they have the funds, are they making healthy or poor food choices?
- Do they have access to a grocery store selling healthy foods and can they transport their groceries home and prepare meals for themselves?
- Do they have a disability which limits their ability to shop for and prepare healthy meals?
- Does their mental state limit their self-care, i.e. are they too depressed to eat?
- If you do the shopping and prepare the meals they eat, how nutritious are these meals or are you contributing to their food insecurity?
Granted, some of these questions may be tough to ask and answer- but being 100% honest about the situation is the first step to combating food insecurity.
So what can you do to help?
- Take a closer look at the nutritional value of the foods your care receiver eats on a daily basis. You may need to reason with them and slowly replace less nutritional foods with healthier choices.
- If finances are an issue, look to food banks or charities to help fill the gap.
- If mobility or accessibility is an issue, set up a weekly online grocery store delivery system which has healthy groceries delivered to their doorstep.
- Find a local meal delivery system to send homemade, delicious meals (fresh or frozen) to their home once a week.
- Reassess their monthly budget – sit down with your care receiver and discuss where money can be juggled to make way for a larger food budget, where possible.
- Contribute healthy meals and food items to their pantry where and whenever you can. Enlist the help of other family members or friends to do the same.
Nutrition is a key contributing factor to how you live out the last years of your life, so help your care receiver live a life that’s healthy, happy and as free of illness as possible.