Elderly nutrition: challenges and resources

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Caregivers and family members often tell me that they are concerned about the diet of their aging loved ones.

“They just don’t seem to eat like they used to” is a common stated observation.

While proper nutrition is important at any age, there are many factors that interfere with older adults’ ability to access nutritious food. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to help your aging loved ones maintain proper nutrition.

Decreased sensitivity is a part of aging. The number of taste buds we have decreases as we age, and sensitivity to smell noticeably decreases in our 70s. Therefore, meals must be appetizing and visually appealing for an older person to enjoy them. Eating less can contribute to not getting enough nutrients to maintain good health.

Health issues can also impact a person’s appetite. Medications can bring side effects, such as nausea, or change the taste of food, making it less appealing to eat. Furthermore, limited mobility can make it difficult to get around the kitchen. Even transferring food from the oven or refrigerator to the kitchen table can be difficult - and possibly even dangerous.

For seniors who are homebound and live with such mobility challenges, home-delivered meals may be an option. Jewish Family Service delivers Kosher meals to homes daily that provide one-third of the daily recommended nutritional requirements for most seniors. All homebound Jewish seniors in Providence, Pawtucket, Cranston and Warwick are eligible to receive Kosher Meals on Wheels regardless of their income. A $3 fee is requested of those who can afford it.

Financial factors may also influence the type of food that seniors purchase. Healthy whole foods can be costly. Seniors on a limited income sometimes must purchase less expensive processed foods so they can afford to pay for medications and other needs. Fortunately, SNAP benefits (food stamps) are available to help seniors with limited incomes.

For seniors who can safely leave their homes, Jewish Family Service operates two Kosher nutrition programs, called Senior Cafés. The JFS Senior Cafés are located at Temple Sinai, in Cranston, and at the Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence. An affordable donation is suggested for each meal and there are scheduled activities before or after lunch, which provide both social and intellectual stimulation. Arrangements can be made for transportation to the Senior Cafés.

Whether you plan to personally help your aging loved ones by providing them with visually appealing and nutritionally balanced foods, or you want to take advantage of the other options in Rhode Island, Jewish Family Service (401-331-1244) can help. The agency has professional staff with experience working with seniors who can talk with you about the best options for your loved ones and even about other resources available in the community.

ERIN GISHERMAN MINIOR is the CEO of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island.