By Kimberly Beauchamp
In celebration of National Nutrition Month® (March), Health Professions Press presents the essential ingredients for healthy eating in older adults—delicious, nutritious foods, a mixture of family and friends, and a helping of happiness at the table. The theme of National Nutrition Month® 2015 is “bite into a healthy lifestyle,” an idea that couldn’t be more appropriate for older adults in both the home and in long-term care settings. As we age, our sense of taste and smell dull, and eating may lose some of its pleasure, yet good nutritional intake is more essential than ever during the later stages of life. In fact, in their book Bon Appetit! The Joy of Dining in Long-term Care, (HPP 2001) authors Jitka Zgola and Gilbert Bordillon state that “failure to eat well is the single greatest threat to residents’ physical and emotional health.”
Imagine if you lost the ability to cook your own meals and set your own dinner table. What if you were served breakfast on a plastic tray every morning, forced to eat with strangers, at times unable to even feed yourself? Bon Appetit offers solutions on how to improve the dining experiences of people living in long-term care facilities, particularly older adults with dementia or other cognitive impairments, so that eating doesn’t become institutionalized. The book provides flavorful recipes with wholesome ingredients for a variety of dietary needs (mechanical soft, purée, etc.), ensuring attention to important elements on the plate that enhance mealtime, such as taste, aroma, color and texture. They also suggest transforming the dining ambiance so that residents better enjoy mealtimes and feel at ease. How is dinner presented? Are staff members engaged and friendly with the residents? Is the dining room layout inviting and comforting?
Good nutrition, body and soul, is not just about food intake, but about the experience of eating and enjoying the sensory, social, and emotional pleasures of mealtime. This is just as true, and perhaps even more essential, for older adults struggling to communicate their wants and needs, as mealtimes are a key part of a stable daily routine. The Best Friends Book of Alzheimer’s Activities, Volume Two (HPP 2008, Bell, Troxel, Cox & Hamon) devotes an entire chapter to positive meal-related activities. Chapter 8, “In the Kitchen,” begins by giving some food for thought: “On your calendar, do you list a time for ‘snacks and hydration,’ or do you offer high tea or a happy hour? Is there a bread baking machine that is emitting wonderful aromas, or is bread delivered in a plastic bag? Do you take the time to set the table in a festive way at least for some meals every week?” The authors provide simple strategies and step-by step activities on how to keep mealtimes pleasurable and meaningful for people with dementia, from reminiscing about favorite childhood meals to learning new ethnic flavors to helping to tear the lettuce for a salad. These activities help transform ordinary mealtimes into enjoyable occasions where the individual with dementia can collaborate and maintain autonomy whenever possible.
Whether we are young or old, we still love sneaking that taste of dessert before dinner, slurping soup on winter evenings, and sitting down to linen tablecloths and polished silverware. We laugh in the dining room with family and friends, and tenderly insist that our children and grandchildren eat their vegetables. Food sustains us, but also brings us connection and joy. Health Professions Press is committed to providing the tools and resources that caregivers need to support healthy and joyful eating for older adults in all care settings.