Making Time for Senior Meals and Making Conversation

Many of us in the Minneapolis area and throughout, in the hustle of work, family and social commitments, do not stop to reflect on what it might be like when the hustle stops, our responsibilities are diminished and we have a lot of time without social contact. Seniors living alone, however, experience the lack of commitments and conversation acutely; they often have ample time without companionship or social interaction, which can be especially challenging at meal time.

Meal times spent alone day after day, as we described in our September, 2011 blog post, 10 Warning Signs a Senior’s Nutrition is in Danger, can have a negative impact on a senior’s nutritional health and well being.

The statistics are daunting:

  • Two out of five seniors living alone have at least four warning signs of poor nutritional health.
  • One out of five seniors feels lonely when eating alone.
  • A whopping 76% of seniors living on their own eat alone most of the time.
  • One of the greatest mealtime challenges for seniors who live alone is lack of companionship and a shared family experience.
  • When seniors who live alone share meals with others, the meal time lasts nearly twice as long.
  • A large percentage of seniors living alone say they eat more nutritious meals when eating with others. Not only that, but the food actually tastes better.
  • More than 75% of seniors wish their families shared more meals together.
  • The greatest obstacle that prevents elderly people who live on their own from sharing more meals with others is that their family and friends don’t have enough time.

These statistics are the result of a Home Instead Senior Care Network study that measured mealtime routines, challenges and preferences of seniors age 75 and over who live on their own.  Approximately 40% of the population in this age group – around 6.7 million people – lives alone, according to the U. S. Census Bureau.

The Home Instead Senior Care Network study reveals that seniors who live alone may experience improved nutritional health and well being when given opportunities to share meals and mealtime conversation.

Senior Mealtimes and Conversation

The Home Instead Senior Care network launched the Craving Companionship program as a result of this study. The program is designed to encourage families of seniors to enjoy family meals together with those who live alone.

Taking time to share a meal with the senior in your life can make a very positive difference. But what should you discuss? How can someone over 75, and mostly housebound, relate to your life as a full time working parent, soccer mom, parent of busy teens or member of the school board?

Sharing memories is one great way everyone can connect, asserts Dr. Amy D’Aprix, a life transition consultant, author, corporate speaker, facilitator, coach, and an expert in aging and senior caregiving. Dr. D’Aprix developed a resource for families called Caring CardsTM, which is a packet of “playing cards” that provides ideas for making meaningful conversation with seniors.

The Caring Cards provide starter questions like “What are some of the most valuable things you learned from your parents?” and “What was a major turning point in your life and how did it affect you?” These questions can launch excellent conversations that can bring Minnesota families together while providing insight into your senior’s life and interesting past that you may otherwise not have been aware of.

Thinking of follow up questions that help your elderly loved one to delve into his or her memories can not only keep the conversation going, but also provide important stimulus that supports healthy brain function. Looking back, would he or she have done things differently? Is there particular perspective that was gained from those past experiences? Before you know it, you will be deep in conversation and enjoying hearing the adventures and life lessons of someone with an intricate past.

For more information on the Craving Companionship program, visit www.mealsandcompanionship.com.

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