By Erin Cleavenger
In today’s fast-paced world, we have a seemingly constant stream of new diets and nutrition tips that promote healthy living. However, the majority of these diets leave out one factor that can be particularly important for aging adults: human connection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes with about a 50% increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Loneliness is also associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
To promote personal connection and better eating habits, Home Instead — a franchise that provides non-medical in-home care in Morgantown and surrounding areas — is introducing Companionship Diet, a free program designed to demonstrate the health benefits of enjoying meals together.
Monica Everly, general manager of Home Instead’s Morgantown location, said research shows loneliness and isolation can negatively impact the meal choices made by aging adults living alone.
“Nine times out of 10, if an individual is at home they are not really going to prepare themselves something to eat,” she said. “They are going to grab maybe a yogurt, or they are going to grab something that is just quick and simple.”
In fact, according to research conducted by Home Instead Inc., U.S. seniors who eat most of their meals alone are more than twice as likely to be lonely than seniors who eat most of their meals with others. Even before the coronavirus pandemic forced the increased isolation of so many, 75% of lonely seniors in the U.S. already were not getting the right amount of at least one element of nutrition.
“Because of everything that is going on, not just with COVID, there are not as many sit-down meals because everyone is so active,” Everly said. “So the older generation misses that sit-down meal time. Even just planning one or two days a week for a family member to be there for a sit-down meal is great.”
Being alone and cooking for one isn’t the only mealtime challenge for many seniors. Physical disabilities, difficulty getting to the grocery store, loss of appetite due to medications and inability to find connections in the online social media driven world of today all contribute to poor eating habits and nutritional choices.
The Companionship Diet program offers educational resources, including recipes and tips to inspire seniors and family caregivers to make healthier choices, spend quality time together preparing and sharing simple and nutritious meals, and schedule regular mealtimes.
“Preparing and sharing a meal with a senior is an engaging activity that can help reduce isolation,” Everly said. “Having them participate in preparing these meals and sitting down and having conversations is something that has an overall positive impact on a healthy lifestyle.”
Everly said even a Zoom call can help aging adults feel less isolated and alone.
For more information on the Companionship Diet, you can call the Home Instead office in Morgantown at 304-906-4333 or visit the website www.homeinstead.com and click on the Wellness and Lifestyle tab for nutrition tips, additional resources on making older adults part of your family meal and recipes.