Adult daughters - who typically serve as home cooks for seniors - are feeling the heat in the kitchen, according to a recent study of family caregivers. The stress is especially high for adult children who are caring and cooking for someone with several nutritional risk factors.
Research conducted for the local caregiving company Home Instead Senior Care, Lewisburg, revealed caring for an older person who has three or more nutritional risk factors is tied to increased stress levels. Of the caregivers who rated their lives as extremely stressful, 67 percent were caring for loved ones with three or more nutritional risk factors compared with 33 percent of caregivers whose seniors had fewer than three nutritional risk factors.
Adult children caring for an older adult (average age 81) reported the top three nutritional risks as:
Three or more prescribed or over-the-counter drugs per day.
An illness or condition that made the senior change his or her diet.
Having lost or gained more than 10 pounds in the past six months without trying.
That's why Home Instead Senior Care has partnered with national nutrition experts from the University of Maryland and Duke University Medical Center to promote healthy, stress-free grocery shopping and meal preparation tips and recipes for families in the Central Susquehanna River Valley.
At the center of the campaign is the Cooking Under Pressure handbook that is available free through the local Home Instead Senior Care office. A Web site at www.foodsforseniors.com provides additional information, research and resources.
Local senior care expert Joe DeLauter, owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office serving the Central Susquehanna River Valley, said that risks associated with conditions such as medication use and illness can negatively impact seniors' health and independence as they age.
"Good nutrition is, in fact, the first line of defense in helping to keep seniors healthy and independent," he said.
According to research, family caregivers are taking an active role in the lives of these seniors who need help, shopping and preparing meals for their older loved ones, which could be contributing to that stress, DeLauter said. In the Home Instead Senior Care survey, 83 percent of family caregivers help with groceries or other errands; 65 percent assist with meal preparation.
Experts advise stressed-out family caregivers to get organized by creating a shopping list so their seniors regularly have healthy ingredients (see the 12 Staples Your Senior Shouldn't Live Without), collect interesting recipes and ensure their senior has the companionship they need to shop for groceries and make mealtimes enjoyable.
"Buy fresh ingredients and prepare meals with older adults, enticing them with what they like to eat. Bring in new recipes and ingredients; we all get in a rut," said Dr. Nadine Sahyoun, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Maryland, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
"Make eating a happy event," Dr. Sahyoun said. "We focus too much on what people can't eat and don't give enough attention to what food represents to us. Food is at the core of our lives - it's the smell, color, feel, texture and social context. All of this is what makes a meal enjoyable. We have to pay attention to those things," she added.
"If you're a family caregiver, I think it's really important not to act as the food police, watching and criticizing," said Elisabetta Politi, nutrition director of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center at the Duke University Medical Center. "Ask, 'Is there anything I can do to help you?' Listen to seniors' concerns. Maybe you want to go with them to shop."
Home Instead Senior Care's DeLauter said that companionship is one ingredient that family caregivers don't want to leave out of a senior's meal plan. Companionship is vital to making mealtime more engaging for an older adult as well as in alleviating the strain on family caregivers.
"So many seniors are alone or lonely. If you can't be there to shop for groceries or eat with loved ones, consider a congregate meal site - such as a senior center - a meal delivery program or a paid companion to help encourage older adults to develop the kind of nutritional habits that will keep them healthy and give you peace of mind."
12 staples your
They may seem like common staples for any healthy diet, but the following 12 foods hold special nutritional value for seniors.
These items, from Home Instead Senior Care developed in cooperation with nutrition experts at the Duke University Medical Center and the University of Maryland, also are versatile enough to be used in a variety of recipes.
1. Oatmeal - A great source of soluble fiber, oatmeal has been shown to help lower blood cholesterol and may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
2. Eggs - With only 75 calories per serving, eggs contain 13 essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, important for absorbing calcium needed for bone strength. Lutein and zeaxanthin found in egg yolks may reduce the risk for cataracts and help prevent macular degeneration.
3. Yogurt - Rich in calcium, yogurt can contribute to the calcium requirement needed to prevent osteoporosis. Good bacteria is added to some yogurt, which may help people with digestive problems that often accompany aging. Mixing yogurt with fortified cereal provides added vitamins, including vitamin B12, which many seniors have difficulty absorbing from foods that naturally contain that vitamin.
4. Blueberries - These blue beauties are among the top fruits and vegetables for antioxidants. Research on aging and Alzheimer's disease reveals that blueberries also may improve memory and coordination.
5. Apples - The benefits of apples are too numerous to name. The pectin in apples supplies galacturonic acid to the body, which lowers the body's need for insulin and may help in the management of diabetes.
6. Fish - Bluefish, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout and tuna (bluefin and albacore) are a low-fat, high-protein source of nutrients. The American Heart Association recommends fatty fish twice a week to improve heart health.
7. Chicken - Poultry is an excellent source of protein that contains less fat than most meats. Chicken, especially breast meat, contains half the fat of a steak. Chicken also has niacin and selenium, which possess cancer-fighting properties.
8. Broccoli - A good source of multiple nutrients including vitamins K, C, E, B, and calcium and iron, broccoli has been found to protect against cancer, heart disease, stroke and macular degeneration.
9. Soy (Edamame) - Nutritionists recommend consuming up to one serving a day of soy as a replacement for foods high in saturated fats. Some studies have shown that soy improves bone health. Be sure to consult your doctor before adding soy to a senior's diet.
10. Sweet Potatoes and Squash - Sweet potatoes provide beta carotene and vitamins C and E, all of which promote healthy skin, hair and eyesight. Squash is a good source of beta carotene and vitamin C.
11. Rice - As a complex carbohydrate, rice digests slowly, allowing the body to utilize the energy released over a longer period, which is nutritionally efficient. Rice has low sodium content and contains useful quantities of potassium, the B vitamins, thiamin and niacin. Rice contains only a trace of fat, no cholesterol and is gluten free, so it's suitable for people with celiac disease.
12. Dark Chocolate - Consumed in moderation, this high-calorie, high-fat food has been found to boost HDL cholesterol (known as good cholesterol) and lower blood pressure.
Always consult a doctor before beginning any diet or nutrition program.